Cha Cha Cha (1964)

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Helen, Helen, Helen. How your talents were (mostly) squandered by the powers-that-were in Hindi cinema. But actor Chandrashekhar, when faced with the prospect of starring in his own vehicle (he produced and directed this too), decided to cast her as his heroine. Excellent decision—except he really should have found another hero too. In a cast that also includes Om Prakash, OP Ralhan, Aruna Irani, Bela Bose, Iftekhar, Madan Puri and these two:

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plus guest appearances by Dara Singh and Tun Tun, Chandrashekhar himself is the only blight. Well, he and the shrewish Ma to end all shrewish Mas, Leela Mishra. Dull and doughy as he is, seeing him opposite vivacious and beautiful Helen is just wrong. But otherwise, Cha Cha Cha is oodles of Beach Blanket Bingo type fun!

The film is on a VCD sent by my pal Mike (thanks, Mike!) and therefore lacks subtitles, but here is what I think is the basic plot. Lily (Helen) is vacationing on a houseboat in Kashmir with her wealthy family and friends: Ma (or Dadi Ma, not clear) (Leela Mishra), father Dinanath (Om Prakash) and various siblings and friends whose relationships to each other I never quite figure out. Madan (OP Ralhan) is interested in Lily romantically, and Geeta (Aruna Irani) in Mohan (Polson). I think maybe the four girls (Helen, Bela Bose, Aruna and an unknown actress) are sisters, but I wouldn’t swear to it in court.

What I do know: they are all always up for a good dance party (well, except Ma).

Here is the opening track where we meet the whole gang getting their groove on. It’s really quite fabulous!

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How fun is it to see Bela Bose and Helen dancing together!? And Geeta and Madan do the two-step:

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As I said, though, Ma doesn’t approve of such “modern” behavior and she sends young Lily off to the temple with an offering.

At the temple a very different sort of music is being performed. Lily misunderstands the singer and thinks he is singing about her; she gives him a tight slap that knocks him sideways.

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The pandit tells her that she’s misunderstood—the song is a bhajan about a goddess who shares her name, not about her, and to top it off the singer is blind! She hurries home, chastened and embarrassed. Ma scolds her and then lectures the rest of them on their lack of traditional values too.

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She can really screech like a banshee. I love how put upon they all look.

Lily returns to the temple the next day and the priest tells her that the singer was blinded when he tried unsuccessfully to save his parents from a burning house (luckily I was watching this part with a group of other bloggers who have been visiting this weekend, and two of them—Carla and Gebruss—were able to translate quite amazingly well for the rest of us).

Lily and her Ma convince the pandit and the singer, Puran (Chandrashekhar), to let them pay for surgery to restore his sight in Bombay.

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Off they go, all of them (it’s quite a crowd) and Puran’s vision is saved (and so, it looks like, is Lily).

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Lily then embarks on a mission to introduce the shy and devout Puran to their modern lifestyle in modern Bombay. First up: a beach party!

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Lots of people doing the Indian twist! Except poor Puran, who doesn’t know how to dance. Lily tries to teach him, but he doesn’t have much aptitude. Let’s try it again, this time at home.

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Look who shows up!

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It’s 70s bad guy Macmohan! Incidentally, Iftekhar plays the family doctor and purana dost of Dinanath. And Dinanath has a “bodyguard”—a midget named Dara Singh. Tun Tun appears as either Ma’s sister or Dinanath’s sister (I really need to learn some Hindi).

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Puran still refuses to dance. Lily does manage to teach him to drive, and we are treated to some footage of 1960s Bombay.

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Lily and Puran are falling in love (why, why, why???)

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Lily begins to wear Indian clothing, giving Indian mothers with “modern” daughters everywhere something to live in hope for.

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But alas! Dinanath has noticed the growing attraction (why, why, why???) between Puran and Lily, and meets Puran to find out more about him. It turns out that Puran is a harijan (untouchable)! Nahiin.

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A conversation between Dinanath and Lily follows, where Lily entreats her father to remember their progressive values. He points out that not everyone shares their enlightened view, and if she marries Puran it will harm the marriage prospects of her sister(s). At least, that’s what I think he says. Poor Lily! Now thoroughly converted into a saree-wearing, self-sacrificing bhartiya nari, she gives up her love for the sake of her sister(s).

She is supposed to meet Puran, but instead attends a swimming/diving competition of some sort, where we are treated also to the Manly Goodness of the real Dara Singh.

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Can you picture Dara doing the twist too? He does!

Puran tracks her down there, and she tells him that she’s in love with Madan. Heartbroken by her rejection, Puran decides to leave Bombay. Ma stops him (she is much more traditional than the rest of her family, but she’s so happy that Lily is wearing Indian clothes I think she might even forgive him for being a harijan). (Also, he may leave town after all, I am not sure—there is footage of a plane landing, but again not clear).

He decides to learn “modern” dance, and Lily meanwhile indulges in a daydream where she is Anarkali and Puran is Salim (he actually looks much more hero-like in his mughal getup).

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Will these two broken hearts ever meet? Will we get more fab cha-cha-cha music? Or is Lily now so thoroughly Indian that only classical will do (the songs, by Iqbal Qureshi, are all lovely but I do love the snappy dance music the best). Anyway, will I even know what’s going on without subtitles or Carla and Gebruss? Does it really matter? After all, there’s still Madan Puri to come, emceeing an All-India Cha Cha Cha Dance Competition (with a hilariously bored-looking white girl on the maracas—who is also magically sitting in the audience).

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I am also thrilled to see my new best friend, Pompadour Man (Oscar).

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So much of cha cha cha fun, it boggles the mind—especially if you are a Helen fan (and who isn’t?!); she is just stunning. Forget the story, it’s the music that matters in this one.

Edited to add: Here is a better screen shot of Aruna—she’s also very young and pretty in this!

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78 Comments to “Cha Cha Cha (1964)”

  1. For starters:

    Dearest Memsaab,

    I have been a “closet fan” (yes, I have coined a term for it!) of your blog for thirty-two blog years (in “human” years, this would translate to approximately one year and two months (give or take a few months)). Needless to say, your writing style is stupendous, and you truly have a way with the words — not to mention an impeccable taste in films. Shaabaash on all that you’ve achieved so far:) (Just thought I’d get that out first, before Helen makes her much-anticipated entrance into the message withOUT the fluffy feather head-piece and the thirty-two pound jewelry:))

    Now, for the film: I’m glad you watched an entire film without the subtitles (for us international fans, that definitely takes our M.A. in Hindi Films into a whoppin’ PhD). Helen looks gorgeous in a sari!! The only times I have watched her in a non-cabaret-y mode have been in “Woh Kaun Thi?” as Seema and “Hum Hindustani” as Kalpana — though, if you ask me, Helen isn’t HELEN! without the over-the-top dancer look:) The film looks intriguing (c’mon, the girl takes a complete 180: from a spoiled brat to a worshipping devi before the credits start rolling. Who’s lucky enough to say they’ve seen THAT in other films? ;)) Now I’ll certainly have to check this one out!!

    Cheers for the blog,

    Ms. A

    • You are funny AND nice! Thanks, and I’m so glad to hear from you.

      Helen does look stunning throughout this film. Absolutely gorgeous, no matter what she’s wearing. I had no clue what was going on though! Thank goodness Filmi Geek and Antarra’s Ramblings could do some translating for me. I really need to live in India for a year or so to learn Hindi. I just can’t do it on my own…

  2. This Chandrashekhar fella is almost as bad as Manoj kumar. The temerity!!!! The gall… to be all doughy and to make a film with the beautous Helen. He needs spanking. He does. Though I suspect if Helen had spanked him, he might have liked it a bit too much.

    I wish they had the fun songs on youtube. All I could find were the boring ones.

  3. Elevishly yours: Marry chambers…. hehehehe

    These people beat Peter Jackson (LOTR) by about 40 years! in LOTR they only speak Elvish, here the Elvish is OURS! I think somewhere a hound dog is quaking in his blue seude shoes!

    • I thought maybe Marry Chambers would be some guy who looked like Elvis, but no, she turned out to be a girl. And as someone said charitably here somewhere at least Chandrashekhar had the good sense to cast Helen as a heroine! The fun songs aren’t even anywhere on the soundtrack :( I had to rip them from the DVD, a real chore which I only resort to when absolutely necessary. And it WAS absolutely necessary here :)

  4. Awesome :)

    I love how Helen’s hair color also changes as she becomes more “Indian”

    And I wonder which goddess shares her name? Lily? :D

    And finally, we may know who the pompadour man is! Elevisely Yours: Marry Chambers? Strange name, but am I right?

    • Yes, she really transformed herself into a good Indian girl. And I think they were all calling her Laila or similar at the end too—even her name changed!

      Pompadour Man is Oscar of Vijay-Oscar choreography duo fame. I finally got confirmation of that by watching Bombay to Goa! :-)

      • I wonder if Helen’s name in the movie is Lily as I haven’t seen it. But I believe her name in the movie is Lalli (another name for Radha). CS is singing in the Krishna temple in praise of Lalli and she thinks he is teasing her and thus the slap. Maybe she started as Lily and transformed into Lalli!

        • It was subtitled variably as Laila and Lily, although it sounded like Lily through most of it to me. Subtitles are notoriously inconsistent (and often wrong) when it comes to names though, so it could have been Lalli.

          • Memsaab ji,
            Helen’s name in the movie is LAILA.
            -Arunkumar Deshmukh

          • I finally checked at imdb.com. It also says Lalli. My hunch came from a devotional song on Lalli and the subsequent slap. That was the centrepoint of the movie, I believe. It’s quite possible that Helen herself and the cast would have be unaware whether she is Lily, Laila or Lalli as Lalli is an uncommon Hindu name and was used in film for the twist (pun unintentional) the story got with that particular song. Anyhow, Helen to me always looks Lily rather than Laila or Lalli.

          • First of all,IMDB is not always reliable.Secondly,if you have seen the film,you will realise that initially Helen is totally westernised and it is understandable that her name is Laila,rather that Hindu sounding Lalli.further she is called Laila in the film by other characters and she herself introduces herself as Laila.
            -AD

          • I have never heard of any Laila on this earth going to a temple and worshiping Hindu God. A Lily might but not Laila!

  5. I want to know how exactly Om Prakash could be Helen, Bela and Aruna’s daddy- I don’t see much family resemblance between anyone, but when has that hindered Bollywood :) I almost feel bad for poor Chandrashekhar- I do believe he tried his hand as lead in a couple other movies as well, all disastrously :S And Dara doing the twist is brilliant!!!

    • Well, they all called him Daddy, but they all called Leela Mishra Ma as well. I never did figure out which of them were actual family and which were not, but sometimes it’s like that in India too! Hooray for extended friend-families!

      And Dara doing the twist was hilarious. He had trouble getting his ginormous torso to cooperate. But he was so handsome, and looked like he was having a blast :-)

  6. One should compliment Chandrashekhar for giving Helen a heroine’s role! None of the other producers or directors had the guts to rise above steroetyping poor Helen or vision in those days!

    Memsaab is lucky to see this movie. Most of us can only read her review! I don’t think it would be easy to get this movie in India today.

    • You are absolutely right of course, and I should be more charitable towards poor Chandrashekhar. But it’s good to know one’s limitations, and he was not hero material…I am not sure, but you might be able to find this VCD at Induna.com…they have a lot of obscure stuff and great customer service (and they are in India so you wouldn’t have to pay the huge shipping fees that I do)!

  7. OMG Dara Singh looks gorgeous! AND he does the twist!!!! Is it too much to hope that Helen lands up with Dara Singh? I need to get my hands on this one. I think it played on TV in the good ‘ol DoorDarshan days but I missed it. I have seen all the “boring” songs (I luuurve them) since they played on TV a lot, but the dance ones I have yet to find.

    • He looked so handsome :-) And was having such fun. And yes, it is too much to hope for that Helen ends up with him. I loved the “boring” songs too, but wish all of them were included!

  8. Poor Chandrashekhar! And did you not like Leela Mishra too? She’s a cute grannie.

    • Cute grannie???!! I guess if you think great white sharks are cuddly she’d be a cute grannie.

      The woman never stops scolding and shrieking and hitting people in every film I’ve seen her in! Do tell if you know of one where she’s nice, I would love to see it :)

  9. Wow, a young Mac Mohan! I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without the beard and white streak in his hair… I wouldn’t even know it was him if you didn’t say so! Madan Puri looks very young as well but he’s easier to identify. And if I didn’t know any better I’d say Leela Mishra was born a granny.

    Elevisly… yay, another Hinglish word for my vocabulary!

    And what can beat Helen as a heroine!? Even though she’s opposite a blind blob of blubbery dough, this one sounds quite entertaining.

  10. “blob of blubbery dough”, Hee, hee! That is a perfect Chandrashaker description! Poor guy…he is responsible for a lot of great B movies though, so I must be kind…but I like him behind the camera much more then in front. I think he played a hero role in a Dara Singh sword and sandal film…but with Dara in it, who could look at anyone else.

    “Cha, Cha, Cha” was a film I HAD to see, just due to it’s title…sort of like the film “Miss Coca Cola” and “Trip to Moon” (which is now out on VCD, by the way (Dara and Helen are in it! Woohoo)!

    • I am SO grateful that you shared it with me!!!! I love the Indian Twist more than almost anything, and the sight of Dara Singh doing it, and Bela Bose and Helen cha cha cha-ing it up together was sheer bliss.

  11. I maybe wrong, but that first screen shot looks a lot more like Shashikala than Aruna Irani or Bela Bose (Aruna must have been very very young in a 1964 movie: cannot identify her in any of the screen shots).

    I liked that comment about Helen’s hair colour!
    She looks good though, and certainly not from the same Universe as poor Chandrashekhar.

    MacMohan, hindi film actors keep stretching way back before where I mentally place them in time…

    • No, it’s definitely Aruna—I have a better screen shot of Aruna, will add it to the end of the post :) And also def. Bela Bose. She is one of my favorites (along with Shashikala!—I know, I have a lot of favorites…) :)

  12. Again, I agree with most of what you wrote about this film, memsaab :) These great Helen starrers simply have to find their way to DVD! Helen and Bela Bose dancing together! The Indian twist! Pompadour Man! What r they waiting for? Pagla Kahin Ka has languished on VCD for 5 years without a DVD release!?! WTF? I’ll add one more film on VCD that has to be on DVD: Ek Nanhi Munni Ladki Thi (1970). Although Helen only appears for one song (a memorable one), this early Ramsay Bros. horror production also stars Mumtaz (who acts up a storm, fights off a rape by Shatrughan Sinha and is later subjected to electric shock therapy at the sanitarium!) and Laxmi Chhaya! The movie opens with some really spooky title music and has some nice songs sung by Asha, Rafi and Manna Dey and is sleazy fun! Again, what r the DVD companies waiting for???

    • Ooh, I have just ordered Ek Nanhi Munni Ladki Thi! Should be here in a few days. Alas, no subs but hey more work for my brain which could really use some exercise. And a big HUGE DITTO to what’s up with Pagla Kahin Ka???!!! I’m fed up with waiting for it!

  13. hee heee heee! You should watch more films without subtitles, memsaab. Your wit is further enhanced and your guesses add to the nail-biting suspense.
    Methinks ‘Lily’ was a nickname for ‘Leela’.
    :-D

    • I think a really fun time could be had by a Hindi speaking person watching a non-subtitled film with me and seeing how very far off the actual plot I go. I also tend to be more distracted by other stuff, like the statues in Dinanath’s house, and how wide Ma could open her mouth to yell, and how sharp her teeth look.

  14. memsaab, my french friends used to watch hindi movies (VCR days) sans subtitles with me in Bangkok. They were pretty good at following the movie and only needed my translation on imp bits like say if a teary heroine is reading a letter from her beau !

    On another note, with your legion of desi indian fans the in US , i thought some one would have by now been generous in getting you DVDs on their holidays back home. I would do it if u were living Down Under!

    • It’s fairly easy to get the general drift, but I don’t like missing out on so much…and I do have suppliers for my fix here—plus I go to India fairly often myself :-) You need not worry that I’m running short of films to watch!

  15. SOMG, the hero of this is a office sidekick of Mukri (of the big mustache fame) in Sharabi! A pretty sad fate for a wannabe hero

  16. oh thanks for the extra screen shot. Do recognise her now!

  17. And about mcmohan, we like to think we was BORN fully formed with that beard and silver streak in his hair from the brow of Ramesh Sippy. Thanks for spoiling the illusion. :)

    • Ha ha! I’ve seen him in some other films from the 60s/early 70s without the silver streak anyway (although he usually did have a beard)…sorry :(

  18. Where do I get a black tee with “cha cha cha” written on the back? :D

    • I know!!!! Especially in that type of lettering!

      • While we are on “cha cha”, here’s the best, and funniest one I have ever seen. It is part of a famous Marathi stage play (sorry for the quality and no subtitles), so you probably won’t get most of the dialogs, but will get the song. You may need to get to about 3:15 for the “dance” (such as it is) :D

  19. Just think about Indians ( with poor grasp of English) trying to follow “English” movies without subtitles. In fact, I , Raja and a few others had shared some hilarious incidents about how we used to watch “English” movies in our younger days in a forum where both of us are members.

  20. It’s the Movie that C-List Made! How lovely! I knew it existed (primarily as the movie starring Helen and Dara Singh) but this is possibly the first time I’ve ever come across someone who’s seen it. We really need a TCM for Hindi movies dont you think?

    PS – somebody needs to bring back formal western dancing to Bollywood. I want to see them do the foxtrot.

  21. Re. “Posted in Excellent Use of Helen”: From my (very limited) experience, and with the risk of this sounding very wrong, ANY use of Helen is excellent. Are there exceptions, ie. films with her one should avoid?

    • Oh of course that is true—any Helen is better than no Helen at all. But Excellent Use of Helen means we get lots and lots of time with her (e.g. more than a single 5 or 6 minute song).

      Although I would avoid Mohabbatein if possible.

  22. Oh I’m sure that’s possible. Even probable.

  23. If I am not mistaken, the music for Cha Cha Cha was given by “Suraj”, a pseudonym for Shankar of Shanker Jaikishen.

    The songs were splendid.

    • I wonder if he did the “cha cha” music—Iqbal Qureshi is credited with the songs. The songs are very different than the instrumental dance music, but I liked all of the music! ;-)

      • Memsaab ji,
        The music was given by Iqbal Qureshi.You are finding the dance music and songs different,because in this film,the famous guitarist and musician VAN SHIPLEY was Asst. to Iqbal Qureshi.He looked after the dance music and songs were taken care of by IQ. Van Shipley did a small role in the film also.

        In this film Chandrashekhar,Iqbal Qureshi and one of the lyricists,Makhdoom Mohiuddin were all from Hyderabad.

        In fact this Makhdoom Mohiuddin was our family friend in Hyderabad in late 50s and 60s.He was a thorough gentleman.He was a Teacher,Poet and a communist party card holder.In later years he was also an MLA in Hyderabad Assembly.His song,”Ek chameli ke mandave tale..” from this film became very popular.

        -AD

  24. Oops, I goofed, should have checked. Suraj (Shankar) gave music for another Chandrashekhar film, Street Singer. Yes, cha cha cha had some great music and as you say, it was good. You have also corrected noted that once Helen falls in love, she switches to the sari, which is how all “good” Indian girls in Hindi films behave. there is a treatise waiting to be done on that!

  25. Cha Cha Cha in fact is remembered for Helen, and for the music by Ibbal qureshy.

    And Helen seen in any dress other than the cabaret dress is of curiosity value to the movie watchers.

  26. Ha! There IS a treatise waiting to be written on how good Indian girls can be separated from bad ones :-D

    I have seen Helen in saris in a couple of other films, but not many it is true.

  27. The concept of the “gpood” Indian girl versus the bad one (with a golden heart, usually) has completely changed in the last few years. In fact the heroines have pushed the vamp out of business, because with all those heroines wearing short skirts and cleavage showing tops, how can the vamp compete. The same has happened to villains and comedians, because the hero today is an all purpose fellow, suitable for all occasions. Also extinct–the coughing mother, the naive sister and the token Muslim uncle

  28. LOL!!!! such a sad state of affairs…thank goodness we can see more and more of the old ones with stereotypes complete!

  29. i like her talent’s in her film’s

  30. MacMohan looks great without his dusty stubble..the current force india f1 team has got a driver resembling McMohan..his name is Vitantonia Liuzzi..

    However, thats awesome and rare pics.. ;)

  31. Correction – its vitantonio liuzzi…my bad..

    Can you get pics of young AK Hangal, Omparkash…i bet these pics are the rarest of all in indian film industry…

    hehehehe….

  32. I watched a movie not too long ago, that had MacMohan playing Helen’s husband! Needless to say, that bit of casting made the movie for me. 8-D

  33. if theres any bela bose song in this film so pls write the name….coz i looked in every sites i didnt get…..so pls if u can write the songs name…coz i m collecting bela bose songs….

    • As far as I recall, she is limited to dancing in the instrumental songs and not the ones available on the film soundtrack. Those were all Helen and Chandrashekhar, and not nearly as fabulous as the instrumental ones.

  34. Just saw some songs form this movie on you tube.
    Great music by Iqbal Qureishi!

  35. Macmohan fan, do watch the “Aao Pyar Karen” (1964) song clip “yeh jhuki jhuk jhuki nigahen teri.” Used to love all the songs of that movie, but never got to see the movie since it did not release at the neighborhood cinema hall. Thanks to the internet, watched all the songs of that movie recently. Got a pleasant surprise with :yeh jhuki.” Was nothing like what I had imagined. Not a hero-heroine song. It is a bunch of guys having fun, with Brij Mohan (Macmohan) dancing fluidly, happily. Eleven years from then, he has become a gaunt, old Samba. Used to love the songs of “Cha Cha Cha,” too, but did not get to see that movie, too.

  36. All I knew of this movie was the song, Subah na aayi, shaam na aayi…thanks to Vividh Bharati. Then when I started reading about four sisters, I thought what, Pride and Prejudice? But I was wrong. Really happy to read about this movie, kahaan dekhne ko milega itni aasaani se?
    And your comment about how you’re distracted by things like Leela Mishra’s teeth and props and statues – we’ve been watching Bengali films with Eng subtitles and all I can do is listen to the Bengali songs playing in the background, trying to decipher what Hindi song it later became and I forget to read the subtitles, so I don’t know what just happened. Like we were trying to watch `Utsab’ and I got lost figuring out the tune of the Hemant Kumar song playing in one of the scenes and when our DVD choked, spluttered and stayed obstinately stuck, I figured it was to the tune of Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye from Anand. Our Ghare-Baire DVD bragged about sub-titles in English and delivered none. That really made for a painfully gripping viewing.
    I’m remembering RGV’s appalling `Kaun’ and a really badly written epilogue at the end of the movie Why can’t we take more pride in our work?

  37. Dear memsahib

    The following clip has 2 of your favourites-Chandrashekhar & Bela Bose doing the Twist.

    Hope you enjoy this

    Keep up the good work

  38. The midget is named Rirkoo I think.

  39. Wow, Macmohan is really unrecognizable here. How did this young guy got so old in the 70s? Helen and Macmohan are practically the same age (Macmohan born in 1938 and Helen born in 1939) yet they looked ages apart in Don(1978) where Helen still looked young and Macmohan looked old enough to be her father.

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