Asha (Nanda) has received a very strange telephone call telling her her uncle has been killed in an accident - but how much of an accident was it? And why did the call cut off so abruptly, as if the caller had been shot dead? That evening she visits a nightclub and enjoys the band and dancers, but then the MC announces there will be prizes handed out in the form of aeroplane tickets, and what do you know? Asha wins one, along with seven other people there. Soon she is on the plane with her luggage, but the flight hits some turbulence and the pilot believes it is better to land than stay in the air, so they alight on a remote island. The passengers disembark and ponder their next move - but suddenly the craft takes off again, leaving them mysteriously stranded...
First thing out the way first: those band and dancers at the nightclub may be familiar to you if you have ever watched the cult movie Ghost World, for it is with footage of them that kicks off with, danced in accompaniment to by Thora Birch. If you ever wondered what it was, well, it's the second scene of Gumnaam, one of the musical numbers in this sixties Bollywood film, performed (or mimed to) by Ted Lyons and the Cubs, who posited themselves as the Indian Beatles for quite a few productions out of India this decade, singing Jaan Pehechaan Ho, and the incredible head-shaking dance was from Laxmi Chhaya, a speciality artiste who was often parachuted into Bollywood projects to liven them up, which she achieved here with wild energy.
But that's five minutes out of a two-and-a-half-hour movie, and more or less right at the beginning to boot, so what was the rest of it about? This was actually an unofficial Agatha Christie adaptation, which however loose it was stuck to the basic premise of And Then There Were None, whereupon a collection of characters were stranded on an island as some strange individual began to murder them one by one, their paranoia that the killer was in their midst increasing with every death. Despite that structure, Gumnaam also drew on the fairly strict material from most Bollywood pictures of that time, so the musical numbers were obviously an important factor, but also other elements like the comic relief - here a butler (Mehmood) who breaks the fourth wall among other antics.
Our heroine was popular star Nanda, and though the rumours were this was not a happy shoot, she retained her composure for most of the running time, except when called upon to look panicked, though the show was somewhat stolen by another popular star, Helen, the Burmese-British dancer who landed many a supporting role and here was the bad girl who wasn't all that bad, but did like a tipple. She performed most of the dances either in beach interludes or a dream sequence from the Butler who sings about how his darker skin did not mean he could not be a great lover. All very well, but wasn't this supposed to be a thriller? In truth, the accoutrements the story was decked out with were more entertaining than the murder plot, which was confused to say the least, and once we were furnished with an explanation over the course of the final act you would be hard pressed to work out what precisely was going on, and what Asha had to do with it (something about smuggling?). Still, if you had the endurance for a sixties Bollywood trifle, you could do worse: and Ghost World was right, that opener was thrillingly terrific.