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'You cannot think of another Helen...'

Last updated on: March 29, 2006 20:24 IST

He is a Roman Catholic man from Mahim, Mumbai. She traces her origins to France and Burma.

He describes what he does as "allegedly performing acts of journalism in the somnolent hours of the afternoon." She now stays home, resting feet that have helped her shimmy and shake on screens little and big, for over three decades. He, along with a million others, grew up watching her transform the film industry, her smile only marginally more enthusiastic than the effervescent movement of her limbs. She, in the meanwhile, simply danced, and kept on dancing.

And yet, Jerry Pinto has somehow managed to be a superb chronicler of the life of Helen.

His latest book, Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb, does what it obviously sets out to do. But it is the manner in which it manages that is, at times, more interesting than its subject. 'The item numbers of the '00s take themselves very seriously,' writes Pinto. "In the moue that is the standard sexualised challenge on every female dancer's face, I do not find the laughing invitation to naughtiness that I remember in Helen's. You would not dare laugh at – no, not even with -- these women…They're never out of step, but they're not having fun.'

The dates and facts and figures are all in place, of course. But added to these are Pinto's many observations -- analytical, funny, passionate, tongue-in-cheek. It makes for a very pleasing package.

When you think about it some more, Jerry Pinto is somehow the perfect man for the job. Like the subject he is besotted with, he is, in a sense, an outsider. After years spent doing everything from teaching mathematics and journalism to writing television scripts, editing a travel dotcom, dabbling in corporate communications and creating endearing works such as his popular first book Surviving Women, he is currently executive editor of Man's World magazine. In short, he is as far removed from standard commentators on Bollywood as possible.

Helen, on the other hand, is a Franco-Burmese dancing sensation who, by an incredibly tortuous route, came in from the cold, from another country, and found herself playing everything from vamp and seductress to spy, moll, cabaret queen and, lately, grandmother. In short, she was as far removed from standard entrants to Bollywood as possible.

So, how did this Roman Catholic man from Mahim find himself in the footsteps of our first, and indisputably original, item girl? Senior Features Editor Lindsay Pereira got Jerry Pinto to elaborate.

Next: Making sense of Helen

Photograph: Jewella C Miranda