When Helen got reduced to almost a skeleton
- Helen is among the most popular faces to have graced the silver screen
- The former actress has a tragic backstory
- Helen had to trek from Burma to Bombay (Mumbai) with her family to escape the Japanese invasion of Burma in 1943
Helen Anne Richardson, more commonly known as Helen, is among the most popular faces to have ever graced the silver screen. She was among the best nautch dancers of her time and there are no two ways about it. It might have been years since she has been away from the camera, but the many songs that she danced to are still enjoyed by millions across India and the world. From Aa Jane Jaan to Mehbooba Mehbooba and from Kar Le Pyar to Paisa Daulat, the list of her hit songs is long. Winner of two Filmfare Awards, Helen appeared in over 700 films, which speaks volumes about her extensive body of work.
But much before she made a career in showbiz, things were far from hunky-dory for the actress. In fact, she went through circumstances that a regular person cannot even think of in the wildest of dreams.
Helen was born in Rangoon, Burma to an Anglo-Indian father and a Burmese mother. While her father’s name was George Desmier, her mother’s name was Marlene. The former actress has a brother called Roger and a sister, who goes by the name Jennifer. During World War II, she lost her father and the family had to trek to Bombay (present-day Mumbai) in 1943 to escape the Japanese invasion of Burma.
Sharing her goosebump-inducing story with the Filmfare magazine in the year 1964, Helen had said, “We trekked alternately through wilderness and hundreds of villages, surviving on the generosity of people, for we were penniless, with no food and few clothes. Occasionally, we met British soldiers who provided us with transport, found us refuge and treated our blistered feet and bruised bodies and fed us. By the time we reached Dibrugarh in Assam, our group had been reduced to half. Some had fallen ill and been left behind, some had died of starvation and disease. My mother miscarried along the way. The survivors were admitted to the Dibrugarh hospital for treatment. Mother and I had been virtually reduced to skeletons and my brother’s condition was critical. We spent two months in hospital. When we recovered, we moved to Calcutta, and sadly my brother died there due to smallpox.”
Helen’s first marriage was with Prem Narayan Arora, best known for directing Dil Daulat Duniya (1972). She divorced him in 1974. In 1981, she married Salim Khan, who was then counted among the most prominent screenwriters of the industry. Salim was already married with four children. When Helen became his second wife, she had an important role in keeping the family united. Helen’s stepchildren thankfully bonded well with her.