Gumnaam (1965)


This is a famously popular film in India. The composition is simple: a story that gives the film an existence, and a series of Bollywood musical numbers. I cannot recall ever experiencing such dissonance, because I am coming at the from a background in Christie.

That tradition — at least the elements I like — involves the contract between viewer and author that each will try to outsmart the other within a clearly defined set of rules. We always lose in the short run and are allowed at the end to go back and reregister what we saw in a set of reversed insights. There is nothing like it; some of the most hypnotising trends in modern mathematics follows a similar, perhaps linked, path. And thence all of life.

So they’ve taken this excellent structure and both broken it and submerged it. In the original, we had a man close to death from cancer taking justice into his own hands by creating an open world. It matters that the ten ‘Indians’ are completely unrelated. Here, the goal is not simple justice, but revenge. Every one of the victims are connected to a single event that — strangely — we witness at the beginning of the movie.

The original has very fine grained wonder, worry, and suspicion among the dwindling Indians. The enabling butler is a victim as well. Here all we have is folks enjoying themselves, running away, and setting up songs. The butler is a novel invention: a wacky joker, Hitler moustache, and ‘dark’ which means something deep and ugly that even as an American, I cannot fathom. He has a musical number about what would today be called incelist.

So, if you are interested in neocolonial resolution of British narrative in Indian entertainment, you will find this a fascinating synthesis. If you come for anything else, you will be frustrated.

Posted in 2022

Ted’s Evaluation — 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.


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