This here highly sort Indian 7″ is without argument a holy grail of the Bollywood genre, and rightly so! And as a lover of beautifully bizarre go-go soundtracks, you can imagine how thrilled I was, to have finally got my little mittens on a very nice copy only recently! I think everyone remembers that moment when their ears and eyes first experienced the infamous Jan Pehechan Ho film clip from the 1965 Indian suspense thriller.
THE MYTH – Gumnaam, which translates to Unknown or Anonymous, is a film adaptation of the 1939 book And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, which is widely considered her masterpiece, and was actually described by herself as the most difficult to write. Publications International lists the novel as the seventh best-selling title with more than 100 million copies sold. The Bollywood film adaption was directed by Raja Nawathe, who had commenced his film career as assistant director to Raj Kapoor, for three productions between 1948 and 1951, and were titled Aag, Barsaat, and Awaara. His debut as independent director started in 1953 with the film Aah, which, at the time, did not quite make its mark at the box-office, however his next directorial venture in 1956, Basant Bahar, was a musical success, which received the Certificate of Merit for Best Feature Film in Hindi . He directed one another film before Gumnaam called Sohni Mahiwal in 1958.
The Jan Pehechan Ho moment of Gumnaam, is a wonderful explosion of genuine music film art, and a seminal piece of Indian film history! The wild go go action takes place on the imaginary Silver Jubilee disco dance floor of the Princes Club. The floor is explosive with energy screaming from the dancers and band members, while sophisticated yet surprisingly unfazed high class diners watch on. You have masked men in tight fitted suits frantically hip swinging alongside shimmying shapely goddesses in tight pink fringing, and sometimes presented through some dynamic camera angles. And the track is purely unbeatable! Killer guitar riffs with that nice fat 60’s twang, up against the most applicable wild beat which compliments the tight horn section that seems to have lost it’s way from an Italian spaghetti western sound score.
THE MUSIC for the film Gumnaam, was composed by Indian duo Shankar & Jaikishan, who composed music for the Hindi film industry together from 1949 to 1971. The two earlier had both worked for Prithviraj Kapoor’s Prithvi Theatres , a traveling troupe which staged memorable productions all across India (it was Shankar who assured a job for Jaikishan who was a key harmonium player, without the permission of Kapoor). The two of them developed a very close friendship and apart from following their musical pursuits, they also used to play significant roles in various plays including the famous play Pathan, which was performed on stage nearly 600 times in Mumbai.
The two became known by the acronym “S-J”, and would form a core team with lyricists Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri, and with singers Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar (although they also worked with almost all the popular singers of their time). The commercial geniuses lead the Bollywood music in spite of tough competition from maestros like Roshan, SD Burman, OP Nayyar and Madanmohan. S-J were the house composers or RK Films and were on their pay-roll till the end. Even after the termination of the professional association between Shankar and Raj Kapoor (Jaikishan had died by then), Kapoor had used a number of their earlier compositions (which were in his custody) for a lot of his films, though the credits were given officially to other composers.
Shankar & Jaikishan’s compositions broke new ground in Hindi film music. Apart from relying upon their knowledge of Indian classical music, they also employed western beats and orchestration, and it became their established practice to have at least one song in a movie based on semi-classical style. While working as a team, Shankar and Jaikishan used to compose their songs separately. Between the two, Shankar was the senior partner and he would usually arrange the orchestra, even for Jaikishan’s songs. There was a gentleman’s agreement between them, for not identifying the actual composer of the song. Dance numbers, title/theme songs and soulful songs were Shankar’s forte while Jaikishan was a master of composing background score, but both Shankar and Jaikishan were equally proficient in scoring western music based songs. Despite their distinct working styles and preferences, it is very difficult to identify who composed what, and best to accept all their work was truly a joint effort.
Shankar & Jaikishan made a major contribution towards the development of jazz music in India and the new genre Indo jazz. Their 1968 album Raaga-Jazz style, the earliest Indo-jazz recording to come from India, and is considered to be one of the most innovative, with 11 songs based on Indian Ragas with saxophone, trumpet, tabla, bass and of course with sitar by Rais Khan.
THE LEADING MASKED MAN – That compelling personality who plays the singer-front man to this outrageous cacophony of spectacle, is dancer Herman Benjamin, also known as “Mr. Charisma”. He made his entry into the world of Hindi cinema as a choreographer, or as they were often called a “dance-master”, sometime in the late 50’s. Most often he assisted other choreographers with the more traditional dance routines, but on occasion he was handed one or two songs that leaned more towards the night club rock n’ roll numbers, that were getting more and more popular in the Bollywood films of those days. He also appeared on screen as a dancer in quite a few films of this period. Benjamin is the handsome devil prototype, and has an animalistic magnetism that Errol Flynn would duel to the death for. His apparent charming and humorous nature overflows with his maneuvers. Even among a crowded dance floor such as in the sequence of Tin Kanastar Peet Peet Karhis from the 1958 film Love Marriage, his distinct drawing power is undeniable. It‘s also evident that Benjamin studied Herbert “Whitey” White’s school of Lindy Hoppers and jitterbuggers, perhaps only through film, because some of his moves are brilliantly borrowed from the 40’s and 50’s! While Benjamin plays the moves in grand style, it is believed that Surya Kuma who at the time, was inspired by an English dance craze called “The Shake”, was likely the mastermind behind the Jan Pehechan Ho dance floor phenomena (both he and Benjamin helped choreograph the dances in Gumnaam). Benjamin sadly passed away on 13th September 1968 and was only 37 years old, which is such an injustice, but I’m so grateful he left a huge legacy of film attributions credited up until 1971, for us to enjoy.
THE LEADING LADY – Strutting alongside Benjamin’s skillful and tight dance floor motions, dressed in tight gold lamé, is the stand out prismatic and blazing lead female dancer Laxmi Chhaya! Her wild energy is captivating and ferocious during the Jan Pehechan Ho routine, and it’s difficult to comprehend that she was only 18 at the time of shooting, when she danced herself into film history. In fact Chhaya was nine when she appeared in her first film Talaq in 1958, when director Mahesh Kaul had spotted her among the guests on the sets. Three years later her role in Bada Aadmi, established her as a dancing star. Although she’s most likely most recognised for her Gumnaam role on this side of the world, Chhaya in fact had a major and successful career in the Bollywood circuit, working in over 55 film productions between 1961 through to at least 1982. Just a year after Gumnaan, Herman choreographed the routine for Aaja Aaja for Nasir Husain’s Teesri Manzil. Chhaya again had a feature role, but this time she is far more sedated, with her part as a spectator. Maybe after her earlier smoking Jan Pehechan Ho performance, the Indian screen management felt they needed to cool things down for a while.
Chhaya moments of spectacular grandeur are a plenty in this time of Bollywood cinema. One of those spell binding moments is from the 1968 film Suhaag Raat, where there’s a cobra and peacock dance off between two beauties, Madhumati who convincingly plays the sensual serpent, up against the peacock adorned Chhaya! The battle is furiously tense and tight, and amazingly fought til the end! In the 1970 S. Sukhdev directed film My Love, there’s a seductive devilish dance by blond bombshell “Caron Leslie” to some low grinding grooves composed by Daan Singh . With the devil shadowing her moves, the room gets so heated that uncomfortable onlookers almost turn away with embarrassment and guilt. But once Chhaya gets the nod things get even hotter on the dance floor. Miss Leslie is swiped by a far more dominant, spirited and high powered challenger, and the music is to revved up with heated frantic African tribal beats! Below I’ve listed a few of my favourite Chhaya moments of wonderment well worth looking at.
THE BAND – The brilliance of Jan Pahechan Ho shines further beyond the dance floor and lifts up onto the bandstand. The group “performing” the anthem is known as Ted Lyons and his Cubs. Regardless of the cult popularity of this Bollywood performance, I found it difficult to find a lot of information on this mythical line-up. In fact when watching the clip, the line is blurred between actual bands members from bands actors, especially without knowing the real life line up of the Cubs. But it’s not important and the blend is splendid. I can tell you that the leader of the pack, Terence “Ted” Lyons plays the centered guitarist (with the red guitar) and is brother to the famous dancer/film actress Edwina Lyons (his other sister Marie Shinde was a very active dancer and choreographer also at that time). In the 1967 film Raat Aur Din, Edwina dancers along with Laxmi Chhaya to Awaara Ae Mera Dil, which also features Ted Lyons And His Cubs, however this time Terence has moved away from band member to join the dance floor society (he can be seen, especially near the end of the song, dancing in the shadows to the left of the band). Aficionados of Bollywood cinema would possibly recognise The Cubs appearing frequently in famous films, one other notable presence is in the film of the same year, Janwar. The song is an adopted “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, titled Dekho Ab To, where this time Ted is behind the drum kit of The Cubs (pictured).
According to Memsaab’s incredible blog dedication, Feel the love! Ted Lyons & His Cubs, he emigrated to Brisbane, Australia, in 1972, resulting with the break up of the band and any further screen appearances. He says that he danced way more than he appeared with his band, and although they played plenty of weddings and events, no studio recordings were ever produced. He spent 20 years in the Bombay film industry as a dancer and drummer/band leader.
THE SINGER – The actual voice behind the man behind the mask, is the legendary and prolific Bollywood singer Mohammed Rafi. He was born 24 December 1924, as the fifth of six sons in a village near Amritsar, Punjab (the family moved to Lahore later in the 1920’s). Rafi’s elder brother, Mohammad Deen, had a friend Abdul Hameed, who recognised Rafi’s talent and would encourage him to sing, and later even convinced the family elders to let Rafi move to Mumbai.
There’s an infamous story about Mohammed Rafi’s rise to stardom. One time he and his brother Hamid went to attend a performance by the renown K.L. Saigal. The power went off (and from my brief experiences in Indian, a common occurrence even these days), and the dignified Saigal refused to sing without the benefit of the sound system. With agitated audiences tempers brewing, Hamid persuaded the organisers to allow Rafi to sing for them until the power was restored. It was readily agreed and everyone in the house was impressed, including the great composer and music director Shyam Sunder who happened to be among the audience. Rafi was invited to sing for one of his films in 1944 at the age of 20, with the song Soniye Hiriye, Teri Yaad Ne Bahut Sataya, for the film Gul Baloch, and was quickly brought to attention of other music directors.
Early in his career Rafi got a huge break when he got to work with Naushad Ali (pictured), one of the foremost musical directors for Hindi films of the time. His versatile musical vocabulary offered him a myriad of singing roles, one highlight must have been in the 1960 film Mughal-E-Azam, where Rafi sang Ae Mohabbat Zindabad, alongside a chorus of 100 singers. This relationship would establish himself as one of the most prominent playback singers in the industry cinema and he ended up singing a total of 149 songs for Naushad.
Rafi’s partnership with Shankar & Jaikishan was also very famous and successful (Rafi was their favourite singer despite having good reputation with other playback singers of the time). Out of six Filmfare awards, Rafi won three for S-J songs, and sang a total of 341 numbers (216 solo) for the partnership! With the voice in demand, he would also work with other big name producers. S.D.Burman used Rafi as a singing voice of Dev Anand and Guru Dutt, and would end up collaborating on 37 movies. Rafi also worked with the great Ravi Shankar, and in fact received his first Filmfare Award for the title song of Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960), which was composed by Ravi. Rafi also received the National Award for Ravi’s song “Babul Ki Duaen Leti Ja” from the film Neel Kamal (1968), and admits that he actually wept during the recording of this stirring song. Myself, I love the swaying Baar Baar Dekho he sang for China Town in 1962.
Mohammed Rafi died on 31 July 1980, following a massive heart attack…his funeral procession was one befitting a king. Said to have been the biggest funeral processions Mumbai had ever witnessed, with over 10,000 people attending despite heavy rains on that day. The government of India announced a two-day public holiday in his honour. In 2010, Rafi’s tomb was demolished to make space for new burials. Fans who visit his tomb twice a year to mark his birth and death anniversaries, use the coconut tree that is nearest his grave as a marker. Rafi was a big player in the history of Indian film which goes with out saying, and there’s actually some great sites out there that celebrate this man’s career and achievements, which I recommend new fans of this genre pursue.
THE SONG – The lyrics to Shankar-Jaikishan’s Jan Pahechan Ho is by Shailendra (Shankardas Kesarilal), a popular songwriter who had already won the Filmfare Best Lyricist Award twice before Gumnaan. But sadly his promising career was cut short, when he was just 43 years of age. In 1961 Shailendra invested heavily in the production of the movie Teesri Kasam (released in 1966), directed by Basu Bhattacharya and starring Raj Kapoor and Waheeda Rehman. Although the film won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film, it was a commercial failure. Stress, tensions and anxiety due to financial loss quickly contributed to his defeating health, and coupled with alcohol abuse, ultimately led to his death on 14 December 1966.
If you look up the literal interpretation on the song, well the words and meanings kind of bump into each other, which is not uncommon ofcourse. Here’s my blurry attempt at the song’s interpretation, mashing some of those online translations.
Oh you stealer of my heart…you who avoid my gaze…at least tell me your name.
For it will never return, not by anybodys calling…
straight and direct…they have pierced my heart…
All this small talk…should not be a town story…
I am sure my feeble translation is questionable, but do go to grabbingsand.org, for some fun and more in-depth translations, by people far more competent than myself .
IN CLOSING – Indian vinyl is not the easiest to find, especially in good playing condition. But this is a must for 7 lovers and you are rewarded with Lata Mangeshkar’s Gumnaam Hai Koi, a lovely cover version Henry Mancini’s of Charade! I have to mention that you will find an edited cut down version on the EP. (I do find the 3 minute edit version very does the job adequately), so if you’re after the long play version that you know and love from the film cut, them the LP could be a good option, which does appear far more often on the market. Note that the LP cover pictured above is the repress cover from Angel Records that came out the a little later in the same year of ’65.
To have Raja Nawathe and his collaborators all combining visions and talents, at what must have been a most amazing time, and to be rewarded with unbeatable masterpiece that is Jan Peechan Ho, is a blessing that will keep us music lovers dancing and smiling for a very, very long time!
Some great Chhaya dance floor appearances…
1 – Upkar -1967 Gulaabi Raat Gulaabi
2 – Wahan Ke Log -1967 (with Indian space go-go gals!) Woh Pyaar Pyaar Pyaar Pyaar Chanda
3 – Baharon Ke Sapne – 1967 (duel with Laxmi Chhaya and Bela Bose) Do Pal Jo Teri
4 – Suhaag Raat – 1968 “Cobra And Peacock Fight” 1968
5 – My Love – 1970 Laxmi Chhaya and Caron Leslie
6 – Ek Khiladi Bawan Pattey – 1972 (hippie love) Le Le Ye Dil Ka Nagina Bahroopiye Log Saare
 In over 16 years of existence, the theater staged some 2,662 performances with Prithviraj supposedly starring as the lead actor in every single show. By the late 1950s, it was clear that the era of the traveling theater had been irreversibly supplanted by the cinema, which was sweeping across the lands. Clearly it was no longer financially feasible for a troupe of up to 80 people to travel the country for four to six months at a time, along with their props and equipment and living in hotels and campsites. Many of the fine actors and technicians that Prithvi Theatres nurtured had found their way to the movies.
 Carole Lesley (Maureen Rippingale) was a British actress who had a short but significant career as a “blonde bombshell”. In this film, this particular actress is credited as Caron Leslie. I am almost certain this is not her in this film but a dedicated inspired impersonator instead. But I could be wrong.
References and recommendations…