“Koi kahan ka ticket kataata,
Ek hai aata ek hai jaata
Sabhi musafir bichhad jayenge,
Pal bhar ka hai mel
Toofan mail ! Duniya yeh duniya toofan mail.”
The year is 1942, the movie Jawab. Kanan Devi is singing a profound song as the train whistles past………Everyone has a ticket to their own destination, some people come, some people go, we are all temporary co-passengers, and then life goes on at super speed, as our Sun hurls around the spiral end of the Milky Way Galaxy, at the edge of the universe as we know it………
Indian railways, the 8th largest employer in the world, has one of the world’s largest railway networks comprising 92,081 km of tracks. Although it was built by the British mainly to move raw material and goods from here as they exploited the largest source of minerals and produce, these trains are now the lifelines of the country, criss-crossing its vast expanse and connecting people from every possible remote corner.
On any given day, 12617 trains are running on Indian Railway tracks. The total number of passengers carried in 2012-13 was 8.421 billion (842.1 crore!) and 23.07 million (2.3 crore) passengers were on the move on any given day.
Basically, 1.9% of India’s total population was on trains on any given day.
That is like the entire population of Australia or Taiwan decided to go for a ride on the same day !
It is no surprise then that besides its role in connecting people in real life, the trains have formed a backdrop for the setting for many memorable scenes and songs in Hindi films over the years.
So let me get the most iconic scene out of the way first:
DDLJ or Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge:
This has been a phenomenally popular film, breaking all possible known and unknown records at the box office and continues to be screened at Maratha Mandir theatre, 25 years after its release ! http://mashable.com/2015/10/22/20-years-ddlj/#g0_GSOLUMGqG
I saw it ‘first day first show’ at Ganesh Theatre in Lalbaug, during an off call day from the KEM ObGyn residency. The balcony had wooden benches and we were the only women in the entire place ! We were really worried that some of the men in the balcony were going to fall off in excitement when the opening song started with Kajol dancing in a towel…..Well, never mind all that.
We thoroughly enjoyed the movie despite the fact that it reinforces all possible horrible and retrogressive patriarchal notions in a sugar coated way. In the final scene, the heroine is finally released from her father’s vice like grip (down with the patriarchy!), as he realizes that Raj loves Simran more than anyone could ever love her. A kind of a platform ‘kanya daan’. Ugh. Like the only way an Indian girl can escape from the father-man is to run to husband-man. Now read this in Amrish Puri’s deep voice: Jaa Simran, Jaaaaaaaaa
This scene has now become one of the most often repeated situations, the assumption being that public memory will always connect it to the DDL original. Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, Chennai Express, all of them have the hero standing at the compartment door, lending a hand to the heroine who then jumps in and catches the train.
The train and its stations have always played a role in movies going back from Toofan Mail to Jab We Met. Some of the older films also had the trains as a setting, perhaps to also contribute to the symbolism of different destinations, short lived passenger relationships, always moving forward….
In the Dilip Kumar and SRK versions of Devdas, both are shown towards the end of their lives, wandering ceaselessly in trains, steam engines burning like the fire in their hearts, up and down from Calcutta, with no home to go to and no peace, as they drink themselves to death.
In Ijaazat, a gentle movie that explored the delicacy of un- labelled relationships, the waiting room on the platform is a kind of metaphor for Rekha’s character who waited for Naseeruddin Shah to be a part of their marriage before leaving him and moving on to finding love with someone else.
In the deeply moving and disturbing film Umbartha, Smita Patil’s character (who plays a prison warden–although ironically she seems to be the one who is a prisoner of social norms ) finally finds her own freedom as she boards a train, taking her away from the stifling marital home and the relationships in which she is only a utility and not a person at all.
One of the early scenes in the hysterically funny Angoor is in the train where one of the Sanjeev Kumar’s pulls the chain in the toilet and the train whistle sounds at the exact same time, much to his utter bewilderment. As the story unfolds we see his deepening paranoia and the weird coincidences continue and multiply to ridiculous proportions.
Trains have featured in so many key scenes such as the opening train heist in Dhoom 2, the gentle romance between Amol Palekar and Tina Munim in Baton Baton Mein which starts in the Mumbai local trains, the breezy flirting between Rani Mukherjee and Vivek Oberoi in Saathiya. The Smita Patil –Amitabh romance blossoms in Shakti after he saves her from harassment in the train. SRK waits for ‘Anna’s train’ to arrive in the gem of a movie Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na, while the little girl climbing off the Samjhauta Express starts the entire chain of events in Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
In amchi Mumbai, the local train as part of the common person’s life is seen in so many movies like A Wednesday, The Lunchbox and of course there must be countless movies in which a poor young man/ woman with dreams hops on to a train and ends up at VT, such as Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, Bunty aur Babli and Ra One where the superhero ends up destroying VT…..
Some of our films also have trains abroad such as the Eurail, (Hero no 1, DDLJ,) New York subway (English Vinglish), Sydney subway ( Dil Chahta Hai), London subway (Jab Tak Hai Jaan.)
So, this is in no way a complete list at all but I am going to end it with this fantastic scene which gives us an insight into each of the three main characters in the movie as well as the basis of their relationship. This is of course from Sholay, when the Thakur, in his police role, is taking Jai and Veeru to prison and the train is attacked by dacoits. The decision he takes about whether to release them from their handcuffs and trust them is the key turning point.
I started off wanting to set the scene to ease into the train song list but this turned out to be a full post in itself. So, next time, the promised songs list !