While most heroines on the silver screen today clad skimpily try and keep up with the fast beats in smoky rooms with strobe lights, Helen simply ruled the "cabaret" on the silver screen well into her forties. Defying most of the rules that the Hindi film industry had for its actresses, this vamp with a cigarette and often incredibly unreal hair has danced into the hearts of generations of film-addicts. Bringing her reel legend alive is "Helen: The Life and Times of An H-Bomb'', a much talked about new book by Jerry Pinto. An unabashed and shameless fan of Helen, Jerry has chosen to concentrate on her "image'' rather than her real persona. Looking beyond the gossipy details of her life, the book analyses why this refugee of French-Burmese descent became an icon.

"I tried to call her, but she never answered the telephone," he says. "Then I did the next thing; I used contacts. She promised to talk to me, but was always in the bathroom or was out. But the book is not about the person Helen but about the figure on the screen who made magic."

Whether she was Miss Suzy or Countess Carolina or even Miss Kitty Kelly, Helen who danced to "Piya Tu... ." or "Aaja... . Aaja... .'' or "Yeh Mera Dil... .'' was always deliberately foreign.

"The distance was always maintained. Middle-class people thought that she was foreign and that is how foreigners danced. I don't think film directors knew what they were doing when they were doing it, but that was how they manipulated the audience," he says. And in true Helen style, she might not have been part of the book or even the audience, but she certainly was still the star of the show at the book release function here in the Capital on Wednesday. Seductively dancing in black and white and even in colour through songs screened at the event, the "H-Bomb'' still holds the power. -- Mandira Nayar