Helen first appears in ‘Aansoo Ban Gaye Phool‘ as a demure Neelam, 3rd wife of Shambhu (Pran), visiting Vidyanand’s house. Shambhu and Vidyanand (Ashok Kumar) are childhood friends.

Seeing her with her sari pallu over her head, handbag crooked into her arm, I’m wondering if she is going to dance in the film, and how.

Much later, Shambhu who is a con man, surviving by shuffling hats on heads, owns a swanky new hotel. His wife dances in it. Helen being Helen, is sensuous, and yet careful to dance as if she were indeed a wife of the owner, not too provocative.

But the most difficult scene of the film comes a little later. Vidyanand wants to drive away his doctor wife, Sumitra (Nirupa Roy) from his life. He has been to prison, and is convinced that his life now, full of bitterness and illegal activities can have no place for Sumitra in it.

He decides to deploy the familiar ploy that heroes often use in Hindi films – a dancer in your arms and a glass of whiskey will drive any woman away. He summons Neelam to come to his room. He is now the new boss of their family smuggling activities, and Neelam is used to taking orders from him. He asks her to sing a love song, something that will drive away all thoughts of life’s problems. She is not surprised, perhaps she is aware of how lonely and sad he is.

She begins her song, with a small gesture. She pulls a curtain over her face, and slowly, imperceptibly, she begins to move with the song. Because that is what she knows how to do best – perform.

As Vidyanand makes forced gestures to touch her, to get into a position which will mislead his wife,

you can see the confusion on her face, and yet the trust she has in him.

And you can see the distaste on his face, for himself. In one moment, he gives a small shudder.

Both Ashok Kumar and Helen make this slightly creepy scene believable, and you realize once again what intelligent actors they are.

I began to watch ‘Aansoo Ban Gaye Phool’ because Deb Mukherjee had gone under my skin. Though this film too was made in 1969, as was his orange-haired saga ‘Sambandh’, and even though he is a real orphan here as compared to his being an adopted child in the other, his Chandrashekhar/Chandu is as different from Manav as can be.

Chandu is a boisterous college student, full of pranks, yet good at his studies. Chandu’s parents have died early, and he studies with the help of some dhobhis who give him their customer’s clothes to wear in college, in return for which he takes care of their accounts and helps them to save their earnings.

Chandu and Krishna’s (Alka) love story takes up little screen time, but is sweet.

But what is really powerful is the relationship between Chandu and Vidyanand.

In a scene where VIdyanand with small questions learns about Chandu, his past, his aspirations, his dreams, and turns around Chandu’s words to berate him for his confusion, and inspire him into being clear in his thoughts and ideals, is so so well done by both Ashok Kumar and Deb Mukerjee that Chandu’s change of heart is not only believable, but extremely touching.

You see why Krishna would fall for this upright young man.

The role of a student and then police officer also suits Deb’s tall, well-built frame and his unconventionally attractive face, despite the thin mustache he sports when he becomes a police officer.

Though he does scream through his boisterous avatar, his voice is controlled in his sober persona, and hence less grating.

Vidyanand’s move from idealistic teacher to embittered smuggler is effortless. His changes of heart are not accompanied by much melodrama, but just a realization that comes into his eyes. And Ashok Kumar’s smile is in itself a powerful tool, mischievous and yet tolerant and accepting.

Nirupa Roy plays wife well. She is loving, seems to have a good chemistry with whomsoever her husband happens to be, and yet always has her own mind.

The college building and the trees reminded me of Nowrosjee Wadia college, as did the classrooms, and the boys.

One is fortunate when you get a teacher or a few, who make a difference to your life. I am a sucker for teacher-student films anyway. I like reformations, even when they are predictable.

This Satyen Bose film steals your heart with its quiet competence, and its unflinching idealism.