Gumnaam (1965)

This film’s positives are the great songs by Shankar-Jaikishan, the choreography, the filmi noir set decoration, and the Helen-Pran chemistry. Gumnaam is familiar to western audiences because the film Ghost World used its first song (“Jaan Pehchaan Ho”) in a scene. This song kicks off the journey into a crazy world where bouffant hair meets men in dresses; giant Easter Island statues with glowing red eyes compete with Helen for your attention; and a killer on the loose stalks his terrified victims. The drawbacks include a patchy and nonsensical plot, and Nanda and Manoj Kumar as the lead pair (Shammi and Asha Parekh would have been so much better!), but this is nitpicking when compared to the pluses.

Anyway, on to our story: as the movie opens, a man leaving a nightclub is run down. The man who ordered the killing watches, and then makes a series of phone calls with instructions to unseen people:

as well as a call to the victim’s niece Asha (Nanda) telling her that her uncle has died. Nanda gets to scream “Nahiiiiin” for the first of 8,258 times in this movie.

Then he, too, is killed, shot by a mysterious gunman in a trench coat. Cue credits, then on we go to another nightclub, where we are treated to the awesomeness that is “Jaan Pehchaan Ho”—it features (among many things) masked men in ruffly tuxedos doing a stiff, spastic (think Devo) version of the twist with a woman in a gold lame dress (Laxmi Chhaya), accompanied (note the band’s name) by a singer* who appears to be convulsing:

Once the audience has recovered, the seven winners of a raffle—the prize is a two-week vacation abroad—are announced. They are: Barrister Rakesh (Pran), Mr. Kishan (Manmohan), Dr. Acharya (Madan Puri), Mr. Dharamdas (Dhumal), Miss Kitty (Helen), Mr. Sharma (Tarun Bose) and Asha. They all board a flight which is forced to crash land on an island. The steward, Anand (Manoj Kumar), announces that while repairs are made they are free to wander around on the island. Once they have all gotten off, however, the plane takes off—leaving them and Anand stranded (luckily their luggage is left behind too).

Hungry and confused, they follow the sound of a mysterious song (“Gumnaam Hai Koi”) until they reach a large haveli. There, they are greeted by a strange, somewhat belligerent, dhoti-clad servant (Mehmood) who appears to have been expecting them.

At dinner, Anand discovers a diary which accuses each of them of conspiring in a murder and tells them that they will soon be dead too.

Naturally, they are quite disturbed. Rakesh consoles himself with his flask of booze and Miss Kitty:

I am more disturbed by Mr. Dharamdas’ pink dress:

The next day, Anand romances Asha with a song and the others go off on their various pursuits. At dinner that night, Kishan and Dharamdas are missing. Anand and Asha go looking for them and discover the first victim, Kishan. The following morning, after another romantic duet (“Jaane Chaman Shola Badan”—one of my favorites from any movie) they discover body number two (a hint that they should stop singing?), this one poor Dharamdas. They all realize that the killer must be one of them.

The men (except Anand) distract themselves by flirting with Miss Kitty and posturing to each other. Mehmood fantasizes about Kitty in the fantastic song “Hum Kale Hain To Kya Hua”—one of Helen’s all-time great dances (deserving many screen shots) (and she has two more songs besides!):

After more Helen dancing on the beach (“Gham Chhodke Manao”)…

…Mr. Sharma is murdered, followed soon after by Dr. Acharya. Now only Rakesh and Kitty, who have fallen in love, and Asha and Anand are left.

Will they get off the island? Will we ever discover how they are all connected? Will we discover who the killer is? Will it all finally make sense? Does it really matter? No! Never mind the plot holes and continuity problems: if you love Helen (and Pran), and 1960’s kitsch, you cannot miss this one. Search on Youtube for the songs, they are worth watching on their own.

*Does anyone know who this guy is? I love him!

Edited to add: I do now! Read this to find out!

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32 Comments to “Gumnaam (1965)”

  1. Hi, I found your blog from a link on Beth Loves Bollywood and I’m having a great time looking around :)
    Jaan Pehechaan Ho is performed by Mohammed Rafi and I’m pretty sure it’s him the movie as well. I watched Gumnaam a few months ago and loved it – you’re totally right, if nothing else, it’s worth seeing for the songs & Helen + Praan alone!

  2. Hi Maja, welcome :-) I don’t think it is Rafi “singing” in the movie…I think he would have been older (and plumper)…but whoever it is just has such a great affect — he is so lounge-lizardy!

    I’ve watched Gumnaam at least 3 times, never for the plot; the movie would be kind of slow except I never get tired of the songs, Helen and Pran, and looking at the sweet bounty of lighting fixtures in the haveli if nothing else!

  3. Hmm, now I’m intrigued as well, I always just thought it was Rafi in the movie! Though I don’t really know why, I’ve never seen any pictures of him so I don’t actually know what he looks like.

    *googles*

    Ooh. OK, it’s definitely not him, oops!

  4. Having nothing (interesting) to do today, I have done some digging around and discovered that there may actually have been a band called “Ted Lyon and His Cubs” — apparently they are also featured in Jaanwar (a Shammi movie :-) I somehow doubt that our guy here is really named Ted Lyons…but it’s a place to start!

  5. You know, someone else once told me that it was Rafi in the picturization of “Jaan pehechaan ho.” I didn’t believe it because it just doesn’t look like him; he wasn’t that skinny.

  6. I think that rumor started when non-Bollywood fans “discovered” the song through Ghost World…they assumed that since Rafi was the singer, he was also the singer pictured—which WE know is hardly ever the case :-)

    I am calling him Ted from now on, and he is now the object of my somewhat obsessive attention. I will let you know if I find out more about him in my travels on the web…

  7. You know….this lounge singer in jaan pehe jaan ho…is just electric…..when you walk away from this movie…..you tend to remember only this particular song….and this guy. That fit he threw to keep up with Rafi’s pace will be forever a piece in Bollywood history that no one is going to forget. WHO IS THIS GUY!!!!!!

  8. He really is!!!! I am dying to find out who he is. I haven’t been able to find out a thing, although the band is in a couple of other Hindi films. He’s not with them, though.

  9. “Nanda gets to scream “Nahiiiiin” for the first of 8,258 times in this movie.” I thought hema had the patent for that.

    “dhoti-clad servant (Mehmood)”
    It is not a dhoti, it is lungi and he is playing again a south indian, somehwat of a cross between a Keralite and Andhra. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    I have somewhat a soft corner for nanda, that is why I found her quite well-suited for the innocent girl role. But you are right Asha Parekh would have been perfect.

    got to see this movie again.

  10. I am always confused re: lungi vs. dhoti. They look the same to me. Thanks for the correction.

    Nanda is okay in this, but I think the role needed someone a little feistier. It’s a fun film, though. All the other characters make it worthwhile!

  11. lungi is round and dhoti is with the partition in between. O, th epurists are going to skin me alive (if they think me worthy of it) for this statement.

  12. Ahhhh! Light dawns :) Let the purists come, I will defend you, because that actually makes sense to me. Thanks!

  13. Gumnaam is a Hindi version (sort of) of Agatha’s Christie’s Ten Little Indians, a 1945 Hollywood film version was titled “And Then There Were None.” Gumnaam follows the plot of the Christie story only intermittently (without the murderer’s motivation of avenging crimes that went unpunished by the law) and appropriates some details, as well as a couple of shots so blatantly (especially peeking through keyholes) that director Raja Nawathe must have seen the other movie. Did anyone ever solve the mystery of Mr. Dharamdas’ pink dress?

  14. Yes, the key words of course are: “sort of.” There was really no suspense, no logical motivation for the killings, nothing really except the awesomeness of its style and Helen and Pran. And the songs!!!! :-) It’s like Raja Nawathe said: “Let’s remake And Then There Were None!” but then couldn’t remember that much about it and so just went with what he did remember and threw in all the other stuff from whatever was lying around.

    And I should probably take this opportunity to point out that I did manage to find out the true identity of our favorite lounge-lizardy singer!

  15. Helen and Pran are soooo divine. I would give anything for that lavender floral chiffon dress that Helen wears in one of your screen caps (and to be able to fit in it!) I’d watched this a couple of years ago, and just rewatched because I saw “And Then There Were None” the night before, and I wanted all the little purloined filmi moments fresh in my mind. I love the cultural overlap–or not–between Bolly/Holly. My mind was blown (again, because I had forgotten!) by Hum Kaali Hain–surely one of Mehmood’s finest hours (I usually find him a Jonny Leverish drag) as well as Helen’s. I did read your Herman post before, a superb example of your indispensible research into classic Hindi cinema.

  16. Research? Luck, more like. Or perseverance in the face of obsession, even MORE like.

    I should do that (watch the Holly/Bolly versions back to back)…what a fab idea! And I am going to BE Helen in one of my lives, surely.

  17. dis is 1 of ma fav film…n i jst lv da way helen actd n prfrmd..all 3 sngs of her r excellnt..esp the song Is Duniya Mein,wearing a beautiful cute skirt….n laxmi chhaya is fabulus in da film…jst superb…i jst lv da way she danced..n da othr 2 guys wid her dancing were realy cue n handsome..n pran as usual was excellent..n in total it is an superb n fantastic film:)

  18. I love how you have chronicled your entries on the films according to years of their making!! Very systematic. Again, I have also written about Gumnaam. If you want you can read it

    http://oldfilmsgoingthreadbare.blogspot.com/2010/04/edge-of-seat.html

  19. Mehmood has played the role of ” hyderabadi” muslim butler here with his Nizami urdu and references to sikandarabad ka katta..Glorious days they were too…
    Manoj by the way starred in many thrillers..Woh kaun thi, anita , this one..
    Helen was delectable ..

  20. Very strange that Shilpi hasn’t chosen to post a comment on this movie. Maybe she had not yet known that Memsaab existed. What say?

    • Yes you are right I did not memory is fading but I do remember dad telling me that initially excepting Manoj Kumar and my father (for obvious reasons) none of the other actors were told who was playing the murdereryou are right I did not know about memsaabstory. I was very small at the time so not told who was playing the murderer. Dad is not around so I cannot clarify but I think they wanted to create suspense even amongst the actors. Whether they came to know later as the film progressed I do not know.

  21. Please ignore the above comment its all messed up what I want to say is : Yes Shashi I did not know about Memsaabstory. I was very small during Gumnaam but a few years later and memory is now fading but I do remember dad telling me that initially excepting Manoj Kumar and my father (for obvious reasons) none of the other actors were told who was playing the murderer.Dad is not around so I cannot clarify but I think they wanted to create suspense even amongst the actors. Whether they came to know later as the film progressed I do not know.

    • Well that IS an interesting tidbit! :) I did not know myself who the killer would be until the end, so the story worked in that sense.

      It was just not very tightly plotted, but it stands as one of my favorite entertainments. There is a lot to love about it, despite its flaws.

    • @Shilpi – I will ignore your comment only if you tell me what have you been drinking? :-D

      • Ha, Ha I am a teetotaler, rather boring person. Actually my I was making some corrections when by mistake I clicked on the submit button before I had finished with the corrections that is why it so cockeyed. I promise all I drank was water, so please ignore the comment.

  22. I saw Gumnaam yesterday. Was totally disappointed by the movie and the plot and all. The songs were great though and TARUN BOSE!!!!!!!!!!
    He did the transition very well and also his dialogue delivery. He was very convincing. Madan Puri was wasted in his miniscule role. Mehmood got on my nerves, so did Nanda, who usually doesn’t. About Manoj Kumar the less said the better. Helen was her usual bubbly self.

    • This is one movie where Mehmood doesn’t get on my nerves, although Nanda does a bit (and she usually doesn’t for me either). Manoj of course always gets on my nerves.

      The story is silly and badly executed by the director/writer, but there is so much goofy fun in it. Helen and Pran and the rest of the cast including Shilpi’s dad are just excellent and the songs are totally awesome, every one.

  23. I loved the way the perky in a poncho Helen goes KAUN HAI??? KAUN HAI??? some 16 times when someone is stalking her in the jungle

  24. Saw Gumnaam yesterday, and totally loved it!! The songs are awesome – hum kaale hai, picturized on Mehmood and sung superbly by Rafisaab, really stands out. Chemistry between Pran and Helen is just too good. Of course, Manoj Kumar sticks out like a sore thumb. Yes, the surprise factor was the killer at the end.

  25. i’ve seen this film so many times, and i love it (though i can’t stand Asha as a character) but i still can’t figure out how Dharamdas was involved. his only role seemed to be as a scapegoat for Kishan’s death. Someone help me out if i’ve got it wrong :)

  26. Shilpi, I shall be grateful if you let me know where was the movie Gumnam shot – especially the beaches ? Thanks a ton in advance for your information. Was it Goa, was it Aksa Beach in Mumbai ?

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