The last time I rode a train in India was in July 2011 when I took the Shatabdi Express from Delhi to Rampur for a research trip. I was explicitly instructed by my co-workers to have my driver, Amit, escort me to my train seat and to then pick me up from the platform itself when I returned to Delhi. I remember wondering why all the fuss, surely this experience wouldn’t be so shockingly different from my Boston Amtrak experiences? HA. Upon my return to Delhi, I anxiously scoured the throngs of people on the platform until my eyes landed on Amit’s familiar face. Whew. Crisis averted.
Interestingly enough, Bollywood loves to harness both this unavoidable platform chaos and the fleeting platform serenity in-between the arrival and departure of overloaded trains. Not sure what I’m talking about yet? Shocking, really, considering how pivotal and commonplace these train scenes have been in Bollywood over the years.
This 1995 classic set the standard for all modern train scenes with it’s finale scene mirroring the the way in which Shahrukh Khan’s Raj and Kajol’s Simran first met at the beginning of the movie. I’m still amazed that Raj never actually fell onto the platform during this epic ending. Bollywood miracles never cease.
The song “Rukh Se Zara” from this 1968 movie starring Jeetendra and Mala Sinha depicts the lead couple’s first mulaqat on a train journey. Over 40 years later and this is still a filmmaker favorite for filmy introductions.
Lots of folks agree that the How I Met Your Mother’s series finale recently recreated this classic 1998 SRK, Kajol, and Rani Mukherjee movie. Although, there was no HIMYM equivalent for this unfortunate train platform separation scene between SRK’s Rahul and Kajol’s Anjali.
True to form with its parodying of Bollywood over the years, this 2013 over-the-top action rom-com flick pays homage to SRK’s railway reunion with Kajol in DDLJ in this scene. 18 years later, and SRK is playing a character who is almost the same age as DDLJ’s Rahul all while reeling in the infinitely younger Deepika Padukone. Typical.
Very few dances compare to this on-top-of-a-moving-train-dance from 1998. Reportedly shot in four and a half days just as you see it below, “Chaiyya Chaiyya” catapulted choreographer Farah Khan to fame and cemented SRK and Malaika Arora’s reign over the domain of Bollywood train dances for all-time.
This 2013 Ayan Mukerji rom-com starring Ranbir Kapoor as Bunny and Deepika Padukone as Naina, has pretty much everything you could ask for in a Bollywood love story – including a pivotal train station scene. These former schoolmates reunite on a Mumbai train platform prior to taking off for their group mountain trekking adventure.
This 2011 action-romance flick has one of the most convoluted stories I’ve ever seen, and trust me, I’ve seen a LOT of convoluted Bollywood love stories. But when Kareena Kapoor’s Divya S. Rana loses the love of her life, Salman Khan’s Lovely B. Singh (no joke), courtesy of unfathomable treachery at the hands of her supposed best friend Maya, it’s hard to peel your eyes away from this literal train wreck of an ending.
Technically, this isn’t Bollywood, but how could I not include this 2008 film starring Dev Patel as Jamal and Frieda Pinto as Latika in a piece on train sequences? From Jamal and his brother’s childhood railway misadventures to Jamal and Latika’s failed train station getaway to the final “Jai Ho” platform dance sequence – Slumdog Millionaire utilizes train cars, railroad tracks, and train stations to their fullest throughout the film.
Quite possibly the only movie that could make being stranded on an Indian train station in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night in your PJs seem like a not-so-bad thing. Because hey, in this 2007 Imtiaz Ali rom-com, after a chance encounter on a shared train booth, Kareena Kapoor’s Geet ends up on the adventure of a lifetime with Shahid Kapoor’s Aditya courtesy of just such a less-than-ideal train situation. (FYI, I wouldn’t recommend this myself)
This epic 1972 love story starring yesteryear favorites Meena Kumari and Ashok Kumar showcases one of the movie’s most memorable and pivotal scenes in a train car. Unforgettable train sequence aside, I have to confess that there’s a definite creep factor associated with this entire segment.
Based on Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s 1914 novella of the same name, this 2005 film features Saif Ali Khan’s Shekhar and Vidya Balan’s Lalita in a romantic drama where their love gets twisted by societal preoccupations with class and wealth. Fortunately, the train-based song “Kasto Mazza” takes a minute to honor the simplicity of their love story without any of the other confounding factors.
This Hrithik Roshan heist scene from the 2006 installment of the Dhoom series proves that not all train scenes are reserved for fleeting introductions and surprise meet-ups and split-second getaways and masterfully coordinated dances.
Whether you love or hate this 2006 Karan Johar romantic drama set in New York City that focuses on extramarital affairs, you can’t not notice the role of Grand Central Station and NYC trains in the overall love story between SRK’s Dev and Rani Mukherjee’s Maya.
While en route to his final meeting with Aishwarya Rai’s Paro, SRK’s Devdas drinks himself to an untimely death in a train car with his ever-persistent drinking buddy, Jackie Shroff’s Chunnibabu, in this 2002 movie. As if this film’s tragically unfulfilled running reunion wasn’t already enough emotional torture – thanks, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, I owe you one.
With over 7,000 passenger trains running every day across the country, there’s ample opportunity for you to create your own Bollywood-esque-railway-featurette in India. So what are you waiting for?
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Farah Naz Khan is an internal medicine resident at Emory University. After graduating from college in Boston, she returned to her Alabama hometown to attend medical school, and was reunited with the mix of Southern hospitality and South Asian culture that had shaped her childhood. Follow her on Twitter @farah287 or read some of her thoughts at farah287.blogspot.com.