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Helen and the film without a song


Helen's presence in OP Ralhan's 'Hulchul' is not a surprise. The fact that there is no song in the film is. One of the most natural dancers was cast in a film without songs. Here's the story of the mismatch.  

Shriram Iyengar

Even within Bollywood, there are filmmakers who have attempted films that were based solely on their narratives and plot. Films like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, Ittefaq, Ankur, Salaam Bombay, Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho are examples of cinema where songs are ostentatious by their absence. But then, these were films that could easily fall under the category of 'parallel cinema', where directors were attempting to break the stereotypical mould of Bollywood cinema. But to have a mainstream Bollywood film without songs is quite the task. If you were to add the presence of the sexy Helen, the magnificent RD Burman on your background score credits and Zeenat Aman making her debut, the absence of songs seems like a criminal waste of talent. With 'Hulchul', OP Ralhan attempted this very pinnacle of notoriety.

OP Ralhan's fame rests on his work in films that could be classified as 'pulp fiction'. Like its eponymous novels, these suspense thrillers were based on a gripping plot, hilarious coincidences and positively vibrant scenarios. Starting out as a comedian and a character actor, he slowly made his way to the director's chair. His body of work comprises of some excellent films, Talash and Phool Aur Patthar stand out, that scour the typical waters of Bollywood drama and suspense. By those standards, Hulchul is a far more serious and underrated film. The star cast is varied with Prem Chopra, Madan Puri, Helen, a clean shaven Kabir Bedi, and a very young Zeenat Aman essaying major roles. Ralhan himself plays Peter, an engineer, who overhears a conspiracy to kill a certain 'Mrs. Jetley'. Panicking, Peter picks out the only three Mrs.Jetley's in the telephone directory (Those were the times!) and warns them about their husbands' plans. The film follows each of those women as they are driven to paranoia at the actions of their respective husbands. 

However, a songless film does not mean one without music. With the quixotic RD Burman helming your background score, it would be impractical to expect silence on screen. Burman sets the tone early with the spectacularly psychedelic opening credits. The score is subdued but underlined with the jazzy overtures and drama that typifies RD Burman's style. Considering the film has Helen, and a disco, it is impossible to keep away from disco rhythms and eclectic scores no matter how hard  you try. And RD infuses a sense of pizzazz into an already fun film.

Which brings us to the final mystery and oddity of the film, Helen. A dancer par excellence, Helen has become synonymous with the beauty and exoticism of the Indian filmi dance. Her steps, though originating from a classical or western style, would often chart new pathways of expression. It was her sensuousness and natural charm which imbued even the most vulgar song with a dainty mischief. If you had Helen, even for a scene, a dance was mandatory. In 1971, she was at her peak. Films like Teesri Manzil, Caravan, and Don, had put her on the pedestal as Bollywood's hottest property. To be honest, Helen does dance in the film. In a thousand costumes, some of which might be construed as being racist today, and is shown as a dancer at a disco club. But the film lacks the element which defines any Helen starrer - The Helen song. A song that revolves around, and depends on, the charming sensuality of Helen as a dancer. Ralhan casts her as the comic bystander filling in for her husband's serious paranoia. As Jerry Pinto writes in his book on the wonderful actress "She jumps, grimaces, giggles, turns away and coquettes efficiently but she was not meant to be a comic actress." This absence makes 'Hulchul' seem like a good dinner, without a dessert. OP Ralhan's 'Hulchul' is a very underrated suspense comedy. It has the acting calibre of Helen, Zeenat Aman, Kabir Bedi, Madan Puri and Prem Chopra supporting a very viable plot. But what makes it one for the trivia hunters, is the presence of Helen and the absence of a song.