Seeing the murder mystery thriller Gumnaam (The Unknown, Raja Nawathe, 1965) for the first time this year, the film’s opening song and dance number is a standout pop music sequence. Gumnaam starts with two murders in quick succession before the opening titles, followed by a credits sequence with a propulsive score that sets an appropriately suspenseful mood. After the credits, the viewer is taken into a nightclub and the dynamic number “Jaan Pehechaan Ho” (“Let Us Know Each Other”) begins. The focus of the sequence is the luminous Laxmi Chhaya, sparkling in a gold dress, dancing with seemingly boundless energy and looking like she is having the time of her life. This is Chhaya’s only scene, but she steals the limelight before most of the principal cast are even introduced. This opening number – also featuring the band Ted Lyons & His Cubs, led by singer Herman Benjamin on screen, with vocals by Mohammad Rafi and music by Shanker Jaikishan – is such a spirited and joyful early scene that – unsurprising – it was used in the opening credits of Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001) to set the mood, getting that film off to a lively start.
With the backing dancers and background patrons in Zorro-like eye masks, disguises perhaps prefiguring the delightful pantomime fun and comic book vibrancy of the 1966 Batman TV show, “Jaan Pehechaan Ho” has a look and feel rooted in the 1960s: heads and limbs shake and gyrate with gleeful abandon, while Surf Rock-like guitar strings twang on the soundtrack. Unlike the unnerving secret masked gathering of Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999), these masked club goers are not enigmatic, sinister figures hidden behind closed doors. Instead, the door to the Princes Club opens wide, the camera glides through and the dance floor is revealed. This is a joyful place and an open space where everybody is invited, the type of idealised nightclub that only seems to exist in the dream world of the movies.
While there are other memorable songs throughout Gumnaam, including “Is Duniya Mein Jeena Ho To Sunlo Meri Baat” (“If You Have To Live In This World Then Listen To Me”) with Helen (one of the stars of the film and another performer – and number – that comes close to stealing the picture), and although the Agatha Christie And Then There Were None inspired whodunit plot allows for effective suspense sequences (echoing the look of Mario Bava films and anticipating the highly stylised Giallo thrillers of the 1970s and ‘80s), “Jaan Pehechaan Ho” starts Gumnaam on a such a high that the rest of the film, for all its effectiveness, struggles to maintain the same momentum. “This vibrant evening should not be wasted” goes one line of the song, followed by “It will never come again even if you call for it”. Fortunately, people can revisit many favourite film scenes, and this is a sequence of such pure, unadulterated fun that viewers will want to watch it again before it even ends.1
- For further details on Gumnaam, see Keith Allison, “The Old Dark Haveli: The Mad Dancing, Murder, and Mystery of Gumnaam,” Diabolique (5 September 2019), https://diaboliquemagazine.com/the-old-dark-haveli-the-mad-dancing-murder-and-mystery-of-gumnaam/ ; Bedatri D. Choudhury, “Noir Meets Nawathe: Close-Up on ‘Gumnaam’,” MUBI, 16 July 2020; Kim Newman, “Film review – Gumnaam,” The Kim Newman Web Site, 20 September 2020. ↩