My little obsession with—and posts about—the fantastic filmi band Ted Lyons & His Cubs has reaped some nice rewards I never expected, the best of which is that in the past year I have become friends with Ted personally. Through him, I have discovered the amazing extent to which he and his circle of friends and family contributed to films of the 50s and 60s. His wife Lorna’s father was a bandleader in the early days (his band was called Fats Benny), and Ted, his siblings, in-laws and close friends populate the bands and dance floors in so many songs beloved from that era.
Today I want to introduce you to his sister Edwina, who specialized in the fantastic western swing-ballroom-twist types of dance numbers that I so love, and who epitomizes that most expressive Hindi word bindaas. Edwina has become very dear to me over the past year as well, and she is an utter hoot, the kind of girl who even back in those days would (and did) bum a beedi from a group of hijiras on a late night commuter train and smoke it with them.
Starting in the mid 1950s (alongside her brother and sister Marie, also later a choreographer), Edwina began a career as a background dancer and extra which lasted until her emigration from India in 1967. Tall and strikingly beautiful, she is easy to pick out of a crowd (and she rocks a tiara, too).
She remembers her days in cinema fondly, where she was part of a tight-knit group of dancers which included Herman Benjamin, Oscar Unger and Vijay (all of whom carved out careers as choreographers, and the first two of whom have come in for their share of conversation on this blog).
Edwina says that she didn’t think much about it all; she was just earning a living and never thought that what she did was that important. Of course I disagree wholeheartedly: what would these songs be without the backup dancers and band members who so enliven them? Her life in those days is one I think many people would covet—I do, anyway!
Shammi Kapoor called Edwina “the little girl with the ponytail” (she had beautiful long dark hair), and although she says she was too shy to try and mix with the stars:
[Mumtaz] and I got on quite well. Also Mala Sinha and Shakila and Tunuja were very down to earth especially with me. I used to go to Mala Sinha’s home to teach her to dance when any dance was set on [us] by request from her. Her parents too were so sweet and polite. They were from Nepal.
Edwina can be seen in so many really popular songs that I can’t possibly name them all (and am finding new ones all the time), but these are a few that I think showcase her distinctive talent.
Here she is in the wonderful “Dil Ki Manzil” from Tere Ghar Ke Samne, an excellent song to acquaint you with her since she is featured prominently (backing up my friend Ava’s mother Helga!). She is the dancer lip-synching to the lyrics at the 1:21 mark (and again at 3:01):
She is in Arzoo (1965) with good friend Teresa (also a dancer). Edwina hates this screencap but I love it, especially the dress and the little gold bow in her hair!
She has a small role as one of Sadhana’s schoolmates and features prominently in this fantastic song (she is wearing the same dress). This song is a favorite of mine for the good-natured competition between the music and dance styles it contains.
She and her siblings worked a lot with my beloved Shammi. In fact you can see her and Ted and their sister Marie plus assorted in-laws and friends (and choreographer Saroj Khan) in the great “Suku Suku” from Junglee. Edwina is easy to find in songs from (but not limited to I am sure) Vallah Kya Baat Hai, Singapore, Dil Deke Dekho, Chinatown, and Teesri Manzil.
I am not at all envious of her, no, not at all.
She is also the girl—the zulfonwali!—who shakes her lovely hair right into the camera at the beginning of the song “O Haseena Zulfonwali”.
Well, it is impossible not to be, really.
Another great Helen song that Edwina is part of is the crazed “Tiki Riki Tiki Riki” from Woh Kaun Thi, where she is the first dancer onscreen, partnered by Oscar—himself the very first background dancer I ever took notice of (I called him Pompadour Man).
She is in “Nineteen Fifty-Six” from Anari, with the charismatic Herman:
and they are together too in this fantastic dance sequence leading up to “Tin Kanastar Peet Peet Kar” in Love Marriage:
Edwina (in a black dress) dances with Mehmood in this hilarious face cream ad from Shriman Satyawadi (1960).
One of her fondest memories is of being in Cha Cha Cha (a relatively dull story made wonderful by the ad hoc twisting and cha-cha-cha-ing of Helen, Bela Bose, and Edu and her colleagues). Her name appears in the credits, and she is half of one of the two final dance pairs in the Cha Cha Cha Dance Competition near the end of the film.
She had just had her second baby (of four, all very good-looking people now themselves) two months earlier, but you can’t tell! And many thanks to Tom for putting this up online so we can all share in the Goodness of it—you’ll see Oscar there too, along with a very young Aruna Irani and Macmohan.
Madan Puri even says Edwina’s name!
I am not jealous.
Argggh, yes I am!
One of her last appearances (she tells me she was beginning to attract more notice in the industry just as she decided to leave India for good) was in the 1967 film Shagird, where she eggs on Joy Mukherjee (in the awesome “Duniya Pagal Hai”).
And finally, here she is in a rare solo dance, from Vazir-e-Azam (1960). She says she did several solos but can’t remember any of the film or song names! If you see her in another, be sure to let us know!!
I’ve seen her dancing with everyone, it seems. I spotted her in a walk-on scene in Tu Nahin Aur Sahi with Anwar Hussain, too—he flirts with her.
I guarantee that you will now see her everywhere, as I do. I can’t wait to sit down with her one day to drag more stories out of her (and to smoke a beedi with her)!
Feel the love, Edwina: thanks for helping to make these songs and films so memorable, and for being the strong and hilarious and wonderful lady that you still are!