In Pyarelal’s Tarzan and the Gorilla (1963), the animal star got equal footing on the film’s poster. Along with the human cast of Azad, and Sheela Kashmiri, appeared Pedro, the Chimpanzee. The chimpanzee was featured on all the film’s publicity materials. I guess Cheeta didn’t speak Hindi. Azad, called Raja instead of Tarzan, is the son of Shikhari is lost in the jungle and raised by the gorillas. He is raised amongst the gorillas with his best mate, Zippy, a chimpanzee.
Of course, Raja grows up to be the strongest and bravest creature in the jungle. There is a jungle queen who loves Raja. The Poacher, Raibahadur, his daughter, Madhu, and his servant, Jagu, come to the forest to poach elephant tusks, The evil hunter, Jalimsingh, is hired to help steal the tusks. In the finest traditions of villainy, he kills Raibahadur and plans marry Madhu. She falls in love with Raja, who saves her several times. Zippy, the chimpanzee saves her several times as well. The jungle queen, is angry that Raja and Madhu have fallen in love, and she conspires with the hunter, Jalimsingh to separate them. Raja saves her from a changing elephant. She is almost burnt alive.
Finally, she is captured by a giant gorilla and Raja has a battle royal to save her. I question Jalimsingh’s judgement. It’s hard to marry a girl after she’s been trampled by an elephant, burnt alive, or ravaged by a gorilla. The matte effects are credited to Mino the Mystic. How great is that.
Two of the songs in the movie are Baaba He Han Ho Ho Chikrana and Baag Bola Baag Bamlika. These song titles speak for themselves, but nonetheless the first one translates as “Baby be baby fancy embroidery." That’s the best I can find. My best guess is something like, “My Baby is Fine Lace.” The Japanese translation of Chikrana is offensive and not applicable here. The second title translates with even more difficulty. The first three words mean garden talk garden. Bamlika is not actually a word, it could be a name. Lika means lick and bam is a word that sounds like what it means. My best guess is a colloquial translation would be, “Talking loudly in the garden.” Best I can do.
Azad reprises his role as Tarzan (Raja). For information about him, refer to the previous article in this series, Toofani Tarzan (1962).
Shelia (usually Sheela) Kashmiri plays Madhu, the female romantic lead. Sheela Kashmiri started her career as child actress, Baby Sheela, in films like Parineeta (1953), where she was cast as a talkative sister of another starlet, Manju. Later, she played supporting roles in several B-Grade costume and jungle films, including Baghdad Ka Jadoo (1956), Circus Queen (1959), and Pedro (1960). She married Producer A. A. Nadiadwala of Pushpa Pictures and appeared in some films produced by him including Pahli Raat (1959) and Nai Maa (1960). It appears that marrying a director or producer was standard operating procedure.
Fourteen-year-old Baby Sheela was honored for her performance as Johnny Walker’s Marwari child-bride in “Railway Platform”. In a comparatively small part, Sheela held her own among with outstanding performers like Nalini Jaywant, Sunil Dutt and Johnny Walker, and her portrayal of this difficult role was widely admired in India.
Born of a Kashmiri father and an Arab mother, Baby Sheela/Sheela Kashmiri (whose real name is Munira Khanum) started acting when she was four years old. Her father, who made the costumes for a film called “Rehnuma,” took Sheela to the set one day, and the she was immediately cast in an important role.
Since then she worked in many films including “Parineeta”, “Hamlet” and “Railway Platform”. Sheela considers her role in Parineeta, based on a 1914 Bengali-language novel by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay to be her best
More information is available about Pedro the Chimpanzee than is available about the human actors. Pedro first film was Homi Wadia’s jungle film Zimbo (1958), which was almost a copy of the director’s own Toofani Tarzan, released in 1937. The older film did not feature a chimpanzee: as the producer J. B. H. Wadia later explained, Professor Deval’s Circus had no trained apes, so the role of Tarzan’s loyal companion was offered instead to Boman Shroff, a former stunt hero. Unfazed, Shroff proceeded to play his character ‘Dada’ as a sub-human, semi-simian creature in blackface, a caricature that has been described by one reviewer as “the single most amazingly offensive racial stereotype I’ve ever seen on screen”. As it happens, Toofani Tarzan was not unique in its political incorrectness, and in subsequent years, the jungles of Bollywood were thick with grunting men in gorilla suits, frenziedly scratching their armpits. By the late fifties, however, Homi Wadia must have known that it was time to move on to the real thing and he decided to cast a chimpanzee in Zimbo.
Pedro’s portrayal of Dada in the 1958 film is a major improvement over the original performance, considerably more realistic in tone. With a mysterious ‘Mr and Mrs., Joe Neufeld’ as his trainers, he plays it straight for the most part; just the average sidekick from countless jungle movies. As the plot ambles along, however, he comes into his own, donning the heroine’s clothes for a jazzy comedy number, and brandishing a gun in the climax.
The movie was a hit, and Homi Wadia’s Basant Pictures cashed in with a couple of sequels starring Pedro. Of all the Zimbo films, it is Nanabhai Bhatt’s Zimbo Comes to Town (1960) is considered the chimpanzee’s finest performance. Nanabhai focuses a substantial part of the movie on the chimpanzee’s stunts and comedy routines. Pedro gets to perform all kinds of circus tricks. He plays peacemaker in a musical tiff between comic couple, Bhagwan and Shammi, and in another song, he’s a lounge lizard with a lolling tongue, going wild with the maracas on a nightclub stage. It’s a wonder anyone took the lead actor, Azad, seriously after this film, because Nanabhai gives his compliant animal star so many of the hero’s scenes. It is Pedro who rescues the heroine from a gang of kidnappers, Pedro who drives the jeep in a thrilling chase, and bashes up the villain in the end.
Based on rather obscure and often conflicting film filmographies, it would seem that 1960 was the year of the chimpanzee. Several of his best films were dated 1960, including one named after the star himself: the movie Pedro, which from its synopsis seems to be another one of those run-of-the-mill jungle adventures featuring evil sorcerers, uranium-seeking villains, giant Cyclopean monsters, and yes, an obligatory comedy number with the lyrics “Hello, hello, Mr Pedro”.
Also in 1960, Nanabhai Bhatt churned out his Zimbo movie, as well as another chimp-in-the-city flick, the thriller Police Detective, in which Pedro had a central role, investigating crime and bringing a murderer to justice. The latter film was an in-house production for Nanabhai Bhatt, and his brother, Balwant, is credited as producer.
The Bhatt brothers teamed up again the next year for Teen Ustad (1961), a costume drama in which the titular characters are played by “Mushtaq (Horse), Tiger (Dog) and Pedro (Ape Bomb)”. Following this run of starring roles, his career more or less ran dry, apart from a couple of jungle movies. Tarzan Aur Gorilla (1963), where Pedro plays second fiddle to a man in a gorilla suit, of all things. How unfair is that? And then there’s the last of the Zimbo films (Zimbo Finds a Son, 1966), where many of his scenes are spliced together from previously shot footage. (Think, Tarzan fights the crocodile – again and again.) I wonder how they came up that title.
It is easy to think of Pedro as a Bollywood victim, a minor star who was discarded ruthlessly at the end of his run of exploitation hits like an aging and temperamental starlet. What was the monkey like beyond the arc lights? In a 1984 interview for Star and Style, Homi Wadia’s wife, the legendary stunt actress, Fearless Nadia, remembered Pedro as an affectionate, if overly excitable companion who would do the craziest things. He became violent at times and the violence increased as he aged – there had been an incident in which he attacked Nadia and her vision was temporarily impaired. In the world of performing animals, identity can is a fluid thing. When one Zippy died, or was retired to the zoo because he grew older and more aggressive, another cuter one can take his place, and people will be none the wiser. Fourteen chimps played Zippy over the years, but it’s unlikely that there was ever more than one Pedro. “It took me some time to get over his death”, Nadia said.
Hiralal played the evil white hunter, an obligatory character in most jungle movies. Hiralal was a very popular actor who entertained millions for over four decades, as a hero, villain and character actor. He started his career in Silent films made in Lahore including Daughters of Today and Safdar Jung. Daughters of Today was the first feature film made in Lahore. The shooting of the film started in 1924 but took three years to complete, mainly due to financial problems. The release of this film established Lahore as one of the main centers of film making in India, now commonly known as Lollywood (Pakistani Film Industry).
After the introduction of sound in 1931, Hiralal switched to Talkies and appeared in over 200 Hindi films until the early 80s. Hiralal acted the films Banwara, Sagai, Hamlet, Ek Ke Baad Ek, Oomar Qaid, Prem Patra, Leader, and Nadir Shahand. He continued working in Hindi films till early 1980s.
Helen, played the jealous jungle queen. La, if you will, without the treasure or the costume.
Helen Richardson Khan, stage name Helen, is a Burma-born Indian film actress and dancer, who worked in Hindi films. She has received two Filmfare awards and has appeared in over 700 films. Think about it, 700 FILMS. She was considered the most popular nautch dancer, an Indian style of dance. Nautch literally translates as dance. She is the second wife of veteran writer-producer Salim Khan. Remember, that’s how it worked.
Helen Ann Richardson was born in 1938 in Rangoon, Burma to an Anglo-Indian father and Burmese mother. Her father was George Desmier. He died during World War II. The family fled to Mumbai in 1943 in order to escape the Japanese occupation of Burma. She quit school to support her family because her mother's salary wasn’t enough to feed a family of four. In a documentary called Queen of the Nautch Girls, Helen said she was 19 years old in 1957 when she got her first big break in the film, Howrah Bridge.
Helen was introduced to Bollywood when a family friend, an actress known as Cukoo, helped her find jobs as a chorus dancer in the films Shabistan and Awara (1951). She was soon featured as a solo dancer the films, Alif Laila (1954) and Hoor-e-Arab (1955).
She got her big break in 1958, at age 19, when she performed the song "Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu" in Shakti Samanta's film, Howrah Bridge, which was sung by Geeta Dutt. After that, offers started pouring in throughout the 1960s and 1970s, The Bollywood playback singer, Asha Bhosle, also frequently sang for Helen, particularly during the 1960s and the early 1970s. She was nominated for the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award in 1965 for her role in Gumnaam.
Writer Salim Khan helped her get roles in some of the films he co-scripted with Javed Akhtar: Immaan Dharam, Don, Dostana, and Sholay. This was followed by a role in Mahesh Bhatt's film Lahu Ke Do Rang (1979), for which she won a Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award. In 1999 Helen was given India's Filmfare lifetime achievement award.
Helen officially retired from movies in 1983, but she has since then appeared in a few guest roles, Khamoshi: The Musical (1996) and Mohabbatein (2000). She made a special appearance as the mother of real-life step-son Salman Khan's character in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. She also appeared in Humko Deewana Kar Gaye in 2006.
Helen was selected for the Padma Shri awards of 2009 along with Aishwarya Rai and Akshay Kumar.
She performed onstage in London, Paris, and Hong Kong. In 1973, Helen, Queen of the Nautch Girls, a 30-minute documentary film from Merchant Ivory Films, was released. Anthony Korner directed and narrated the film. A book about Helen was published by Jerry Pinto in 2006, titled The Life and Times of an H-Bomb. It won the National Film Award for Best Book on Cinema in 2007.
In 1981, Helen married Salim Khan, a famous Bollywood screenplay writer.
The matte effects (special effects) were credited to Mino, the Mystic. Mino, the Mystic (1881-1951), was a Parsi professional magician. Initially a society magician, he toured starting in 1906 with a large show throughout India, Burma, South Africa, and the East. Mino was a past president of the Society of Indian Magicians in Bombay. His wife was his assistant in his shows.
At one time, he was an Indian motion picture performer. From 1932 until 1941, he played leading roles in 25 pictures. Mostly comedies, but also a few straight, serious roles. In his later life, he was dubbed the "Grand Patriarch of Magic" by the Society of Indian Magicians, before he died in Bombay.
Mino's one daughter, Husn Bano, was a well-known Indian motion picture star and an amateur magician. Eddie Joseph dedicated his book Coin and Money Magic (1942) to Mino.
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