24 comments on “Happy Birthday, Cuckoo!

  1. Thanks Richard for the nice Cuckoo video flood! I enjoyed them all, especially the one from Patanga. Now, she’s one of my favorites, too. So, I also want to wish a happy birthday to Cuckoo! Without here, there probably never would have been a Helen. She was good friends with Helen’s mother and that’s how Helen got into the business. She mentored Helen in those early years and should be given credit for Helen’s successful career. I love the dance they did together in Yahudi. Its one of my all time favorites. I just posted on my YT channel a dance they did from Heera Moti @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCCxoVbOcEU

  2. You’re welcome, Mister Naidu, and thank you for the video from Heera Moti – I didn’t know about that one, and it is nice too.

    I think I’ve already posted the Helen-Cuckoo video from Yahudi before. (IMO, another sort-of-mixed movie that has exceptional dances… The Kamala Lakshman dance in that one is sensational.) I get a bit lazy about searching my own blog, but actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if I posted that one more than once.

    As I was saying, though, I thought I’d put up a few that I hadn’t posted before, that people might not know about.

    I think a lot of people know about at least a couple of the songs that have Helen with Cuckoo… Cuckoo may have helped to introduce the world to Helen, but these days, if anything, it’s through Helen that people discover Cuckoo.

    By the way, I saw one or two more Cuckoo dances from Shabistan in which I would bet Helen is part of that chorus coming out of the walls. But I still have no idea where Helen would be in Awara

  3. Every time I see a high forehead and large bright eyes, I say Cuckoo!

    I listened to the qawwali frm Zeenat first because I love it.

  4. Happy Birthday Cuckoo! She was certainly truly great.

    Cuckoo does not appear in Aahen Na Bharin, unfortunately it appears you didn’t check. In my post of Zeenat songs, I have mentioned the Kalyani-Zohrabai-Menaka (recently realised the third singer) Noor Jehan, and these four all appeared as sort of singing stars (sang for themselves in some, did playback for some, and Amirbai did a single playback)

    That is Dulhan Ban Jao, Gale Lag Jao. There we get a historical sight of Zohrabai caressing Noor Jehan and also get to see Noor Jehan, Zohrabai and Menaka together!

  5. Ava, I love that qawwali too; that’s why I jumped at the chance to include it here. But Vidur says it doesn’t belong…

    Vidur, I am looking at “Dulhan Ban Jao” now, and Cuckoo’s face appears very clearly in that song. So, I guess will put “Dulhan Ban Jao” up instead since there can be no doubt that that is Cuckoo in that song.

    However, others have said that Cuckoo is in “Aahen Na Bharin.” See, for instance, the comment by Mmwan under this posting of the song on YouTube, who says, “I see and´╗┐ recognize Shashi Kala, Shyama and Cukoo but have forgotten others.” There are quite a few soon-to-be-famous actresses in this song and not every face is that easy to make out. And I said to myself that one or maybe another could be Cuckoo (I’m not going into which one now. :) ) So, you see, I did check. And I assume you would know better than anyone :) , but why would Mmwan, who certainly seems to be a good enough fan of these old movies, mention clearly recognizing her? And why would she be missing when “everyone else” is in this song? :)

  6. Cuckoo doesn’t appear at all! Some others than what Mmwan mentioned are Kalyani, Zohrabai (both themselves singers also here), Zebunnisa, soon-to-become-famous Pakistani (future) actress Yasmin, etc….

    Also a great Pakistani character actress Zeenat Begum (NOT the singer) got her debut in this film’s Sakhi Aaya Sawan Aaya, getting playback from Amirbai Karnataki. Her first main role was in another Noor Jehan film, Humjoli (1946) with Jairaj as Noor Jehan’s hero. You can check out my latest 2 YouTube uploads for extremely rare songs from this film. Zeenat later appeared in some more Noor Jehan films as character actress: Chan We, 1951; Dupatta; 1952, etc.

  7. Madhu/Dusted Off in her current review of 1951’s Naujawan linked to this Cuckoo song, which I thought pretty good;

  8. Thanks, Tom, that’s a nice one too. And I wasn’t aware of it or the film before, either. (Apparently, Dustedoff posted her review just half a day or so after I did this post. :) )

  9. Helen wasn’t in Shabistan at all. Helen was a chorus dancer for only 9 or 10 months after which she did her first solo performance in 1953. Helen was a dance judge in Boogie Woogie recently where she she corrects someone by saying she began her career in 1953. I think I saw the video on youtube or somewhere

  10. Thanks for the information, Rimi. But it is perplexing, because there are many sources that say that Helen had started out as a chorus dancer in Shabistan and Awara, and there are many Helen fans who have been trying to see if they could spot her in those films. :) If you Google the phrase “Helen Shabistan,” you’ll find dozens or maybe even hundreds of sources that say Helen was in the chorus in Shabistan, including Wikipdedia. And, in fact, I’m somewhat certain that Helen said it in past interviews herself.

  11. I think there are a lot of false info about Helen and other actresses. Even her date of birth is listed wrong. Helen was born in November 21, 1940 according to Filmfare magazines but Wikipedia says she was born in October 21, 1939. She started dancing when she was barely 13 in 1953. In Queen of the Nautch girls interview, Helen says she was 16 yrs old in Howrah Bridge which was shot in early 1957. She was neither in Shabistan or Awara because they were both shot in 1950-51.

    As far as I have seen, the only chorus dancing video of Helen is this one from Sholay(1953).

  12. Yes, it is true that there is a lot of misinformation out there regarding the Indian film actress-dancers, when they started out, etc. I found that out a few years ago while trying to some detailed research on Padmini. And sometimes when the actresses get older, they get it a bit wrong themselves. I saw, from reading a few different interviews, that Padmini contradicted herself regarding what year she started, what age she was, etc. Though those interviews were in print, so maybe the writer/transcriber got it wrong. Oh, well, I guess it’s not that important in the scheme of things, but fans do want to know! :)

  13. Sorry to be off-topic, but in his book about Helen, Jerry Pinto says that she was born on July 14th 1938. And I think mid-38 is much more plausible that end-39 or end-40, simply because she has always said that she remembers Rangoon bombings (early 1942) and she can recall details of the 8 months nightmare trek in the jungle to join India. Such things are very unlikely if she were only 2 years old (or in my opinion impossible if she were only 1). Besides, she has no reason to make-up a story about an obscure movie like Shabistan, and she did actually make a breakthrough in Alif Laila (shot in 52-53). Helen wouldn’t have been the 1st actress to mix-up some very old things and to let wrong information propagate in the press.

  14. What’s most tragic about, Cukoo, Cuckoo May, an Anglo Indian, she died a slow death, forgotten and unattended. And penniless. Film industry is most ruthless. And ungrate. Now, in 2012, how can we help someone dead decades back? Tragic.

  15. The best of Cukoo was in Andaz. Her steps on Khayalon me kisi ke and her expressions on char din ki in the same song.

  16. Sorry to contradict Vidur, but Cuckoo was part of Zeenat although she was not credited. She can be recognized beyond reasonable doubt in a still from the movie that was published by Filmindia (April 1945, page 34, link: https://archive.org/stream/filmindia194511unse#page/n131/mode/2up).

    In addition, the young girl in Zeenat looks exacty the same as Cuckoo in an ad for the movie Sona Chandi in 1946 (Filmindia June 1946, page 6 link: https://archive.org/stream/filmindia194814unse#page/n405/mode/2up). Later that year, she changed her name briefly for Kishori (link: https://archive.org/stream/filmindia194814unse#page/n485/mode/2up) and appeared in what is probably her first magazine cover in August 1946 (link: https://archive.org/stream/filmindia194814unse#page/n551/mode/2up).

  17. Mel, thank you for confirming Cuckoo’s presence in Zeenat. (And almost four years after the post, too! I see that some other comments slipped by me during this time – I never responded. Oh, well.) Anyway, yes, you are correct. And thank you for the great Filmindia links. I will definitely be visiting those again!

    [Adding this note later, in an edit of the comment above: Actually, Vidur was the one who first pointed out Cuckoo’s presence in Zeenat to me. So, he couldn’t have denied that she was in Zeenat, unless he got confused. :) I have reviewed the conversation that I had with him, and I see that the conversation, itself, gets a bit confusing, but it wasn’t about whether Cuckoo was in Zeenat at all, but whether she appeared in certain Zeenat songs.]

  18. Cuckoo is so mysterious that this is a never-ending thread :) Filmindia does not give much direct information on her. She is mentionned as early as in november 1945 for a movie called Mun-Ki-Jeet (Man Ki Jeet on Wikipedia). She was probably not credited in the film, but here performance must have been so impressive that the reviewer wrote: “The most reprehensible item in the picture is the vulgar dance of Cuckoo in the presence of Prakash. The words of this song are rather unhappy and the actual pictorial portrayal of the the dance becomes vulgar and repulsive owing to the pointed gestures of the artiste. It is surprising that a man of Ahmed’s fine culture and education should have permitted this dance to go in.” I’m dying to see that dance!

  19. Hello Richard,

    So far, to the best of my knowledge, the earliest confirmed movie in which Cuckoo danced is Mun-Ki-Jeet, released 4th August 1945. Cineplot and others say she was also in Mujrim released somewhere in 1944. The earliest picture of her we have is from Zeenat, in 1945.

    I was watching Prithvi Vallabh the other night, and at the end of the movie, during the “elephant scene,” in the middle of a group of girls, I saw a familiar face! Here are the pictures, enlarged and slightly enhanced, taken from Tom’s version (superb job BTW !):
    http://ahp.li/1040bb64bec89c044860.jpg at 1:44:38
    http://ahp.li/7399873733917776a974.jpg at 1:49:58
    http://ahp.li/9e0e461b68d49b98ce1a.jpg at 1:49:59
    http://ahp.li/a9f579c0a983e3a2e5ec.jpg at 1:50:45
    http://ahp.li/2249e3650ae6d920232a.jpg at 1:50:46

    Am I getting obsessed? Maybe I’m wrong, but this little girl looks very much like Cuckoo at about 13 or 14! The scene where she appears for a few seconds was probably shot in 1942, and maybe even in 1941. So it’s compatible with Cuckoo being born in 1928.

    This little girl in the movie has a curly-hair just like Cuckoo, same for her large forehead, her straight nose, her pointed chin or her fair complexion. Her pattern of hair growth is identical to Cuckoo’s, and I can’t spot a difference with her earlobes. If she’s not Cuckoo, she must be her twin sister.

    Thinking about it, it’s “pagal”…

  20. Mel, thank you for unearthing these scenes! (Good video archaeology!) That does look like Cuckoo. I wish there were some way we could confirm this…or just get more opinions about this. (Anybody out there?) I could put all of this in a new post, up front, if you like. Or I could pose a question on Facebook. (Are you on Facebook? I have let that take over a bit too much of my time, distracting me from things like this very blog…)

    By the way, I’ve looked up Man Ki Jeet a little… Most sources have the date listed as 1944. According to some sources, it was based on Thomas Hardy’s book Tess of the d’Ubervilles There are some very nice audio clips on YouTube (with music by Gyan Dutt). In fact, here’s a whole playlist. (Do you know which song Cuckoo danced to? Maybe it was one sung by Zohrabai; I noticed that she was Cuckoo’s singing voice in some of the ’40s films, possibly before Cuckoo was matched up regularly with Shamshad Begum.)

    YouTube has one video clip from Pehli Nazar, but it is a Mukesh song, labeled his first… There are also a few audio clips. Most of the clips mention the year as 1945, but one says 1946. (This gets a bit confusing…)

    Anyway, I am sure we’ll get some more answers and maybe more of the right video clips, eventually…

  21. Richard, looking for Cuckoo is like chasing a ghost…

    Sorry I’m not on Facebook. I wrote a very short biography of Cuckoo some time ago. Unfortunately it’s in French and I guess you won’t find anything new except maybe a rather complete filmography (http://www.fantastikindia.fr/site/Cuckoo,5672).

    The earliest Cuckoo dance on youtube is from Hum Ek Hain, released June 8, 1946. Manik Varma was apparently her voice, although Zohrabai sings some songs in that film.

    Before that, it’s more difficult and I’ve not seen any of her movies or dances. I was also not able to identify the singer in her early movies.
    – I think Mujrim was the 1st movie where she was credited. I assume it was released in 1944 because its music seems to have been available on record by January 1945.
    – Then comes Mun-Ki-Jeet released 4th August 1945, with a reference to her in Filmindia.
    – Zeenat, where she was an extra, was released November 16, 1945.
    – Pehli Nazar was completed in 1945 and released in May/June 1946, first in Lahore.
    – Meghdoot where she may have been a chorus dancer was completed end 1945, and probably released early 1946.
    – Sona Chandi, with Cuckoo being called Kishori, was heavily promoted on her in 1945 and completed early 1946. It had troubles with the board of censors and if it was released, it was not before end 1947. Two dances had to be edited out. Very sad for the only movie where she was teamed with Kamla…
    – Then come Circus King and Arab Ka Sitara maybe also in 1946 but I’ve not been able to find anything on those movies.

    There is no sign of Cuckoo in other regional cinemas (she was much later in two pakistani movies but it was most probably dances shot in Mumbai). There is also no indication of stage performances, which is something Auzurie did.

    The two movies where she was just an extra, Zeenat and Prithvi Vallabh, were shot in Mumbai. If her presence is confirmed, it is interesting to note that Cuckoo did not start as a chorus dancer like Helen did.

    So, the best guess is that she was from Mumbai or moved there at a very tender age, and stayed there all her career.

    I’ve no idea on how she entered the movie industry. Maybe her family just lived near a studio, like Mehmood…

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