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:
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!
How fun is it to see Bela Bose and Helen dancing together!? And Geeta and Madan do the two-step:
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.
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.
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.
Off they go, all of them (it’s quite a crowd) and Puran’s vision is saved (and so, it looks like, is Lily).
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!
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.
Look who shows up!
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).
Puran still refuses to dance. Lily does manage to teach him to drive, and we are treated to some footage of 1960s Bombay.
Lily and Puran are falling in love (why, why, why???)
Lily begins to wear Indian clothing, giving Indian mothers with “modern” daughters everywhere something to live in hope for.
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.
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.
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).
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).
I am also thrilled to see my new best friend, Pompadour Man (Oscar).
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!