Thursday, March 19, 2020

Gumnaam (1965)

... aka: Anonymous
... aka: Unknown, The

Directed by:
Raja Nawathe

In case the other versions of, and endless variations on, Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None aren't enough for ya, here's another from Bollywood that's filled with musical numbers and runs 151 minutes! After leaving a party at the Hotel Metropole, a drunk man is struck down by a hit-and-run driver, only managing to mutter out his own name, "Seth Sohanlal," before dying. But this was no accident. Khanna (Hiralal) witnesses the entire incident from a nearby balcony and immediately calls up a succession of people to inform them and make sure the deceased's will is in order. However, while he's on the phone with the victim's niece Asha (Nanda) someone in a top hat and long coat sneaks in and shoots him. We then visit a nightclub where a rock band called Ted Lyon & His Cubs perform and a bunch of entertainers do a crazy (and actually kinda great) choreographed dance that goes on for five minutes. The club is celebrating their "Silver Jubilee" and there's a ticket raffle. The lucky winners will get to take a chartered plane to a secluded island for two whole weeks of sightseeing and relaxation. Asha ends up winning the prize, along with six others: Barrister Rakesh (Pran), Dharamdas (Dhumal), Kishen (Manmohan), Kitty Kelly (Helen), Dr. Acharya (Madan Puri) and Madhusudan Sharma (Tarun Bose).

On the way to their destination, the plane experiences engine troubles and is forced to land early in a field. While they're making repairs, the pilot recommends the seven vacationers and steward Anand (Manoj Kumar) go for a walk. With their back turned, the plane then suddenly takes off and strands them there. They venture into the jungle to camp out for the night, then set off on foot looking for some sign of civilization. Of course, this means a montage of people walking around the forest and by the sea set to an ear-piecing song with shrill female vocals that goes on for another five minutes. (And I hope you really like that tune because it won't be the last time you hear it!) Finally, they make it to a mansion.

Inside, they're greeted by a butler / cook / servant / housekeeper / Hitler-mustache-sporting goofball (Mehmood), who first pretends to be dead and then frequently breaks the fourth wall. He appears to have been expecting them, has plenty of food and all of their sleeping quarters ready for them when they arrive. During dinner, they find a note addressed to "Those who have reached the final stages of their lives." The note is also nice enough to lay out the entire scenario for them. They've all been lured there. Everyone there is a criminal, convict or killer. And they will all be punished (killed) in a way that reflects the crime(s) they have committed.

Nearly an hour into this, and after three musical numbers and the title theme song playing at least four times, the first victim is claimed when Mr. Kishen turns up dead on the beach with a dagger stuck in his stomach. A note found on the body claims he was murdered for running over Seth Sohanlal. And then another victim is found strangled in a cemetery; his death also blamed on the hit-and-run. The remaining group are then picked off one by one in a variety of ways (axe, poison, hanging) while the cast frequently behave like idiots who wander off all by themselves constantly while also occasionally breaking out in musical numbers. Asha and Anand even make time for a little romance and sing two upbeat love songs in the midst of the rising body count.

The over-length tends to make this extremely tedious to sit through at times, especially considering they're stretching an already paper thin story out for 2 ½ hours. Characters sit around talking about who may be the killer endlessly while rehashing events we've already seen just minutes after we've seen them. The dialogue is pretty wretched for the most part, there are about 5000 pointless reaction shots and the editing, continuity and scene transitions are poorly done. However, this also boasts fine art direction and saturated colors and has enough truly bizarro stuff to frequently perk things up. Either they actually did a good job concealing the identity of the killer or I was too distracted by all of the rest of the nonsense going on to pay close attention. Either way, the reveal did come as a surprise to me.

The best thing going on here are some of the energetic song-and-dance numbers. The opening performance of "Jaan Pehechaan Ho" at the Princess Club has perhaps become the most famous Bollywood musical number of all time. There have been a bunch of covers and it was later famously used during the opening credits of Terry Zwigoff's indie hit Ghost World (2001). Another highlight is the servant's fantasy musical sequence about having dark skin (!) with the repeated chorus "What if I am dark? I am a lover!" (!!) set on a foggy set with giant stone tiki heads with glowing eyes (?) where he bounces around making hilarious faces and dry humps a statue while shouting "God! God! God! God!" There's also a drunken musical number when the two leading ladies get wasted complete with hiccup'd lyrics and Mario Bava-style lighting that ends with the macho hero getting fed up and slapping one of the girls around!

This was a big hit in India (the eighth highest grossing movie of the year) and was nominated for three prestigious Filmfare Awards (India's Oscar equivalent), including Best Supporting Actor (Mehmood), Supporting Actress (Helen) and Best Color Art Direction (S.S. Samel), winning for the latter. A loose remake was announced back in 2017 to be directed by Eeshwar Nivas (Total Chaos) but hasn't yet been made. There have been English subtitled versions released on DVD by both Ultra Media and Eros Entertainment.

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