Article Hindi

5 times dancer Cuckoo shone on screen

On the 36th death anniversary of popular actress-dancer Cuckoo Moray, we look at her memorable dance numbers.

Sonal Pandya

Cuckoo, also known as Cuckoo Moray, was recognized as the first major dancing star of Hindi cinema during the late 1940s and 1950s. The Anglo-Indian actress mostly featured in songs but got a chance to show off her acting skills in films like Andaz (1949) alongside Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Nargis.

Cuckoo had no formal training in dance but her screen presence and winsome smile more than made up for it. She began her career as a dancer in films like Mujrim (1944), Pehli Nazar (1945) and Arab Ka Sitara (1946) but got her big break with filmmaker Mehboob Khan when he cast her for a key sequence in Anokhi Ada (1948).

Helen remembers the fabulous dancer Cuckoo

Cuckoo also mentored a young Helen when she joined the film industry as a chorus-dancer with Shabistan (1951). The two danced together in films like Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958) and Yahudi (1958). Soon, Cuckoo was eclipsed by her young mentee who became the go-to dancer for cabaret numbers. In her last few years, Cuckoo faced financial hardships (there were also charges that she had evaded income tax and had to part with her property) and died of cancer on 30 September 1981.

In her heyday, a Cuckoo performance in a film was keenly awaited. Here are some of her popular appearances.

1. Dance performance — Anokhi Ada (1948)

In Mehboob Khan’s Anokhi Ada, Cuckoo is the entertainment for the characters on screen as well as for the audience. The instrumental piece composed by Naushad has Cuckoo holding centrestage as a gypsy-like dancer who leads the others in a performance. Meanwhile, inside the theatre, Prem Adib’s character tries to gain the attention of the beautiful Kamini, played by Naseem Banu.

2. ‘Patli Kamar Hai’ — Barsaat (1949)

In Raj Kapoor’s first hit film as a producer-director, he used Cuckoo as an attractive club dancer in the song ‘Patli Kamar Hai’, composed by Shankar-Jaikishan. There aren’t many intricately choreographed steps in it, but Cuckoo held the audience’s attention in the first half of the song. Later on in the song, she matches steps with Premnath, even as poor Nimmi waits for his return back in Kashmir.

3. ‘Ek Do Teen’ — Awara (1951)

Raj Kapoor repeated her as a dancer in Awara (1951), this time at a rowdy bar. Kapoor, brooding, makes an appearance while she is dancing and proceeds to ignore her. Shamshad Begum sings, 'Ek Do Teen' as Cuckoo tries to win his attention and fails.

4. ‘Dil Pehla Aur Pyar Dusra Tisari Jawani’ — Saqi (1952)

In the Premnath-Madhubala fantasy film, Cuckoo, looking like an Arabian princess, danced for assorted courtiers in a palace. The song was sung by Lata Mangeshkar and composed by C Ramchandra. The dance was choreographed by a young Gopi Krishna.

5. Aan (1952)

Mehboob Khan’s magnum opus was the only colour film in which Cuckoo appeared. Like Anokhi Ada, here, too, she was the centre of attention. Wearing a red Indian outfit, she danced along with Premnath, the crown prince, in the lavish palace.