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Scream Stream: Revisiting Gumnaam, Manoj Kumar and Nanda's 1965 thriller

Scream Stream: Revisiting Gumnaam, Manoj Kumar and Nanda's 1965 thriller
A still from Gumnaam | Twitter
  • Devki Nehra

Last Updated: 10.16 AM, Oct 29, 2021

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October, generally accepted as the month of spooks, is not just limited to the supernatural; there's a vast world of thrillers that cinema has to offer. This time it's Manoj Kumar and Nanda's whodunnit Gumnaam from way back in 1965.

Based on Agatha Christie's novel And Then There Were None (the inspiration was never credited), the film follows seven people stranded on an unknown island who, over the course of a couple of days, are mysteriously killed one by one.

It's the most Bollywood-ised version of the book — there's a Lost-like situation that no one seems too concerned about, except Nanda's character Asha; they all trek to a big old mansion where lives an eccentric butler and a mystery woman who bursts into song at random (that's the only creepy bit); there's romance, I think I counted at least three songs between Kumar and Nanda; and there's Mehmood to provide laughs and giggles.

Now you may wonder why I'd recommend you watch Gumnaam if I have a laundry list of critical remarks. Let's just not take them as flaws but mere observations. The film will be counted as a classic that probably set the foundation for more thrillers to be created in Hindi cinema. Not just thrillers, but also a masala film that has everything from song and dance routines, a romantic subplot, exaggerated emotional expression, to comedy, and action. The reasons that can understandably be treated as flaws in book to screen adaptations are the same ones that make the experience of watching Gumnaam enjoyable. It's time travelling to an era that you have never lived.

Kumar's Anand begins as a sketchy figure with little to none known about him, but he is (unsurprisingly) the typical hero who upholds a righteous standard. Plus he's a cop, a figure that filmmakers have always loved to love. Nanda and Helen (as Kitty) are bodacious — something that is hardly seen in mainstream Indian cinema anymore — their bouffant hair and make-up is captivating. Even the ridiculous silhouettes that were popular during the ‘60s and ‘70s catch the eye.

What Gumnaam does best is that it does a good job at keeping you on tenterhooks, especially right at the end when the outed villain and Anand spar. Though the characters are one-note, bereft of any backstories, yet they still manage to keep you engaged. That's just good acting by Pran (Barrister Rakesh), Dhumal (Dharamdas), Madan Puri (Dr Acharya), Manmohan (Kishan), Madhusudan Sharma/Madanlal (Tarun Bose). If you have no reference to Christie's work, then it might just be more exciting to watch this film.

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