Rhythm of the Rail

TRY AS I did, I did not detect any link between Indian Railways and Bollywood as the former launched the year-long celebrations of their 150th anniversary on April 16, 2002. The special `Heritage' train which ran from Bombay to Thana replaying the historical first passenger train run in the sub-continent 150 years ago on the same route had 400 VIP passengers. But no Dilip Kumar, no Dev Anand, no Bachchan, no Madhuri Dixit, no other Bollywood legend. Veteran actor Sunil Dutt made his debut in a film called ``Railway Platform" but he was not present on platform number 8 of Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly known as VT) as the Heritage Train took off. I do not know who goofed up on this score but it was hard to visualise trains without movies. And movies without trains.

The Indian Railways was the second largest network in the world and Bollywood made the highest number of films in the world. Like Indian Railways, Bollywood was truly national where no one bothered about caste, creed, language and religion. Both reflected every single aspect of human life in the country. Take an average Hindi movie. Boy meets girl in the train or on the railway platform and the seeds of romance are sown. Boy quarrels with girl on some pretext and they travel in different directions, again by train. Boy and girl decide to come together, this is achieved, courtesy railways.

Even forgetting the hero and the heroine, the lives of other characters in the movies go through several phases in the trains. Way back in 1934, ``Toofan Mail" started off a romance between films and trains which is still going strong. Mind you, the films may not be all about trains but who can ever forget those immortal song sequences filmed in trains featuring top heroes and heroines? The highlight in ``Aradhana" (1969) was the song sequence, ``Mere sapnon ki rani kab aayegi tu" with Sharmila Tagore seated in a train reading an Alistair McLean novel and serenaded by Rajesh Khanna from a jeep running parallel to the train. The same theme was seen earlier in Nasir Hussain's ``Jab pyar kisi se hota hai" when Dev Anand, in a bus played Cupid to Asha Parekh in a train, much to the annoyance of comedian Rajendra Nath who had his eyes on the heroine. The clackety clack of the train wheels generated an atmosphere which suited romantic heroes like Dev Anand.

Remember the suburban train scene in ``Solva Saal" where Dev Anand flirted outrageously with teenaged Waheeda Rehman with Hemant Kumar warbling the song, ``Hai apna dil to awaara, na jaane kis pe ayega." The film was eminently forgettable, but not the chart-busting song. Relishing the ``rail ka dubba" songs, Dev Anand sadly miscast as the `deshi' Prof. Henry Higgins, discovered the datun-selling local Eliza Doolittle (Tina Munim) in Bombay's suburban trains in ``Man Pasand", the hotch-potch Hindi version of the immortal ``My Fair Lady." But he was better off singing to his lady love Madhubala, seated on the upper berth of the compartment, ``Apno to har aah ek toofan hain, uparwala jaan kar anjaan hain," creating an illusion to the heroine's parents seated in the same compartment that he was singing to the uparwala Almighty! These were flippant, happy-go-lucky songs.

But there was intense romance and passion in Kamal Amrohi's ``Pakeezah" with hero Raaj Kumar worrying that his beautiful co-passenger, Meena Kumari, would get her dainty feet soiled in the train compartment. ``Yeh paaon zameen par maat utaariega, maile ho jaayenge" are words remembered even today, so is the lilting song remembering that encounter, ``Chalte chalte, yunhi koi mil jaya tha." The song sequence in the more recent ``Dil Se" where music director A. R. Rehman tuned in the unforgettable seven-minute ``Chhaiya Chhaiya" shot over a running train was a trend setter. The vigour, rhythm and passion of the song were matchless.

Many times, the song sequences from Hindi films shot in trains conveyed more than youthful love. The startling change of scenery in the train carrying Rajesh Khanna in ``Aap ki Kasam" to the accompaniment of the song, ``zindagi ke safar mein guzar jaatein hain jo makam, woh phir nahin aate" symbolised the passage of time and the price the hero had to pay for his jealousy. The Dharmendra-Shatrugan Sinha starrer ``Dost" had a similar song, ``Gadi bula rahi hai, seeti baja rahi hai... " linking the train to the journey that is life.

B. R. Chopra's multi-starrer, the disaster movie, ``Burning Train," despite excellent technical effects, did not take off mainly because our viewers associated trains with romance and song. ``Julie" did a better job portraying the life of an Anglo-Indian engine driver's family, its values and morals. ``Coolie" focussed on the problems of railway porters and was yet another major hit for Amitabh Bachchan. One loses count of the films that have featured the Bombay Central station showing the arrival of the hero or the heroine, in the big, bad city and yet realising their dreams! Both the railways and movies dealt with the bustling life inside the train or at the stations that was the same as in the homes. That is why, Hollywood or Bollywood, trains play a major role in movies.

Foreign films, which lacked the song and dance sequences of our films, used trains in serious, crime, war and historical movies. The long lines of Westerns were seldom made without scenes showing the pioneering rail road people and outlaws looting trains. Agatha Christie fans were thrilled when her novels, ``4.50 from Paddington" and ``Murder in the Orient Express" were made into movies, the last one being a multi-starrer bagging a couple of Oscars. Alfred Hitchcock used the trains to advantage in his thrillers. Much of the action in his ``Strangers on a Train" and ``North By North-West" was in trains.

James Bond fought his Russian enemy in a train in ``From Russia with Love" and that classic villain, Goldfinger, used a train in his attempt to plunder the American Government's gold from Fort Knox.

The wars, both major and minor, offered a lot of scope for `train movies'. Frank Sinatra starred in ``Von Ryan's Express," Burt Lancaster saved precious Western art from falling into the hands of the Nazis in ``The Train," David Lean's ``Bridge on the River Kwai" was all about stopping a Japanese train on the newly-built bridge over the Kwai. Spielberg's ``Schindler's List" had scenes of German Jews being transported by trains to concentration camps and the train scenes were important in another Lean film, ``Dr Zhivago."

There were also some train links between Bollywood and Hollywood. In the final scene of ``Love in the Afternoon," the Gary Cooper-Audrey Hepburn-Maurice Chevalier comedy of the 1950s, Hepburn, backed by her screen father, Chevalier, runs after a departing train and just makes it with her lover Cooper, already in the train. This scene has been recreated in numerous Hindi films, one of the last being the huge box office hit ``Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge" where the unrelenting father Amrish Puri, finally accepts the inevitable and allows daughter Kaajol to elope with her lover, Shah Rukh Khan, by running and catching a train. ``Jaa, Simran, Jaa" he urges and like any good heroine, Simran just makes it to join her lover.


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