Here’s a pop quiz: Which Tamil film had a hero fight on top of a moving train for the first time? Which film had a song on top of a moving train for the first time? A lot of you would scratch your head and keep wondering…so lemme put you out of your misery: it’s Murattu Kaalai (1980) and Uyire (Dil Se.. in Hindi, 1998) respectively.
Murattu Kaalai was Rajnikanth’s first superstardom film where the climax was set atop a moving train and that single scenario established his action hero image there on! The same situation was recreated in the immensely forgettable Lingaa (2014) just to provide his fans the whistle-worthy moment of seeing their hero do the improbable yet again!
Anniyan (2005) had the train as a key backdrop for one of the murders and was the setting for the climax as well. Enthiran (2010) had the city’s local electric train as the backdrop in a fight sequence and it was most probable to believe the situation because it was ‘Robot Rajini’ tackling the goons troubling the damsel (Aishwarya Rai) in distress!
Mani Ratnam used the train as a ‘character’ in most of his films. Filmmakers before and after him have shown the railway station or airport as a location for the climax, where the hero or heroine would stay back and declare undying love to their partner — the suspense of ‘will-he-wont-he’ leading right up to the aircraft taking off or the train moving on. Mouna Raagam (1986) however, had a different twist to this track, where the hero pulls the chain and the train stops their journey of life and they can now begin a new one. In Thalapathi (1991), the slow sound of the train haunts the hero for life and forms the beginning of Ilayaraja’s outstanding background score and the lead to the song, Chinnathaai Aval. The ‘goods vandi’ was where Surya (Rajinikanth) was given birth and hence it forms the biggest metaphor of his life.
Mani Ratnam opens Uyire in a small railway station and moves on to what’s possibly the best ‘train-song’ ever in the Indian film world — Chaiyya Chaiyya! Shah Rukh Khan dances, moves and jumps up in the joy of having fallen in love, to the rhythm of the moving Blue Mountain or Nilgiris Express, which snakes its way up the hills of Ooty.
But Thodari, which released last week, starring Dhanush and Keerthy Suresh, takes the train-backdrop to an entirely new level of suspension of belief where all situations unfold inside-outside and on top of (!) a train that travels at 120kmph.
Many Indian films have captured the train as a symbol of life’s journey. K Balachander even had a TV Series Rayil Sneham to showcase random friendships you make during a train journey which, unlike an airplane, gives us the time and captive space to do nothing (in the days of no mobile connectivity and now, the signal drops anyway) other than connect with the fellow passenger.