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Monday, May 31, 2010

Railway Platform (1955)

Once upon a time, long ago, when there was only one TV channel (DoorDarshan - DD) in India, we used to get one Hindi film per week. If we were very very good (that is, if we lived in areas where Hindi was the local language), we got two films per week. As that was a major portion of our weekly entertainment ration, we’d anxiously scan DD’s programs for hints of what was in store for us at movie-time, and eagerly check the newspaper for information. Any hint that DD was about to bestow an old B/W Sunil Dutt-starrer on us, was always taken as a sign of the DD Gods’ pleasure, and awaited with eager anticipation. Its in those days that I watched this film, and I remember liking it a lot. Twenty years on, I must say that I am glad there are some movies I can watch without blushing for my kiddie-self’s taste!

The film opens with the lovely Basti basti parvat parvat sung by a wandering minstrel (Manmohan Krishan) in a train. His fellow travellers in the train are a mixed lot. Chief amongst them are: Ram (Sunil Dutt) an unemployed youth who is traveling with his widowed Maa (Leela Mishra) and young sister; Naubat Singh (Johnny Walker), a middle-aged Marwari businessman who is traveling with his child-bride; a dhobhi (washerman) who is very proud of his independence; a small-time thief (a very young Jagdeep). But these are just the plebians. The upper crust of society is also represented, but in a different compartment. There are several rich people traveling first-class and chief amongst them is the glamorous Princess Indira (Sheila Ramani). She is running away from a marriage arranged for her by her father, the King of Andher Nagri (Raj Mehra), and is passing herself off as "Sheela".
All these people’s lives intersect when their train is stalled, indefinitely, at a small station on the border of Andher Nagri*. Railway Platform is the story of these passengers in the next 24 hours, with the action taking place at a small village near the railway platform. Its the closest village to the station, and the only place where the stranded passengers can find food, and shelter of sorts.
Unwilling to be cooped up in a train without food and water, the passengers make their way to the village, with the crafty Naubat Singh ahead of them all. He persuades the owner of the village’s only shop and well to sell both to him, for 24 hrs. The simple shopkeeper and his daughter, Naina (Nalini Jaywant), are dazzled by the princely sum of Rs.150 that Naubat offers them for just 24 hrs. They soon regret their hasty decision when they see Naubat sell water to thirsty passengers – the ultimate in inhuman conduct!
Naina is horrified by Naubat’s exploitation of the passengers’ plight and tries to return his money but Naubat is adamant – he bought the well and the shop and his they stay for a day. In an argument with him, Naina falls into the well and is in grave danger of acquiring a watery grave. Ram promptly dives into action and Naina is soon re-united with terra firma. She is extremely grateful to Ram and chooses to repay him by falling in love with him!
Ram is not grateful for Naina’s attentions. But then, he has problems that keep him from falling in love. He is a college graduate unsuccessfully looking for a job. His Maa takes every opportunity to remind him that she used her life savings to educate him, and keeps entreating him to find a job. As if his cup of woes isn’t already full, along comes the glamorous, haughty Indira, to make things worse. He tries to help her with her luggage and his reward is a tight slap from Her Highness’s swinging right. Hey Ram!
In the village, a bustling business has sprung up, thanks to Naubat’s enterprise. He’s employed a few of the passengers to cook and clean, and has set up a make-shift restaurant. Since he holds a monopoly in the food and water business, he is doing brisk trade. Ram does his bit to rouse the social conscience by abusing God (Dekh tere bhagwaan ki haalat kya ho gayi insaan** – humans, see what your God has become!), much to his mother’s (and Naina’s) dismay. But hunger soon drives him to spend a few precious rupees on Naubat’s "unethical" food. His food is wrapped in a newspaper that coincidently has a missing-persons-ad for Princess Indira with the promise of a Rs.10,000 reward for information about her! So off he goes to telegraph her whereabouts to His Highness.
Alas, Ram has been too hasty. On his way back from the telegraph office, he encounters Indira and realises that she is crazy about him. A much flattered Ram succumbs to Indira’s glamour and begins to dream of riches and a life of ease with her wealth. Poor Naina is heartbroken when she witnesses her beloved "Babuji" romancing "the evil rich woman". The poor girl doesn’t seem to be getting the just reward for her many virtues!
In case you are batting for Naina, do not despair. She is living in the most eventful 24 hours on earth! In these 24 hours, relationships are made and broken, fortunes are made and lost, and everybody leaves that railway station a changed man/woman. So one cannot really predict what is going to happen - unless, of course, one is a seasoned film-viewer and can foretell the future of a hero/heroine after the first 30 minutes of the film!
This was Sunil Dutt’s Hindi film debut and, for a first film, he is surprisingly good. His Ram runs through a gamut of emotions – from helpless anger, dreams of grandeur, sweet helpfulness and (of course!) macho pride – very convincingly. It helps that Sunil Dutt looks as young and callow as the character he portrays. The rest of the cast is pretty effective too. I loved Sheila Ramani. She looks gorgeous and makes as glamorous a run-away princess as one could wish for! Johnny Walker, cast in a very unusual role, was a delightful surprise. This is the closest I’ve ever come to seeing him play a masala villain, and his Naubat Singh is quite easy to hate!
I loved how the film didn’t go for over-the-top villains. The bad guys weren’t unreasonably bad – Naubat was the worst, and he was only a businessman making a quick buck. Even the good guys weren’t all good. Naina, for all her virtue and goodness, avenged the slap to her Babuji by giving Indira a good drubbing! And Ram, the idealist, was easily dazzled by dreams of money.
On the minus side, I felt that the film bit off a whole lot more than it could chew. It touched upon class differences, opportunistic businessmen, unemployment, injustice, romance, religion… every possible social issue, in fact! It was all very well done, except The End. I know that everything has to be tidied up at the end, but must it also end with improbable reformations? And that too, within 24 hours?! Its the kind of plot that would lend itself better to a tele-serial of the ye olde DoorDarshan variety, with more room for the rest of the ensemble cast to perform and for each of the interesting side characters to develop into something more than mere stereotypes.
But all said and done, I enjoyed every minute of it, and wish I could have 24 hours even half as eventful!
*Andher nagri = dark town. Its part of the Hindi saying Andher nagri chaupat raja, taka ser bhaji taka ser khaja – a bad town, a useless king and everything in chaos.
**Dekh tere bhagwan ki haalat is a parody of Dekh tere sansaar ki haalat – poet Pradeep’s lament against contemporary morality and culture.


  1. Does Sunil Dutt really have to look so irresitibly good just when I am pressed for time and shouldn't be reading this let alone commenting. I'm so biased in his favor that I can't see him as callow. No, not in that last screen shot where he looks idealistic, debonair even. Great review.I'll come back when I see the movie.

  2. OMG what a review Bollyviewer! It felt as if I was actually enjoying the movie, though I haven't seen this one as yet. Now, I'm eager to watch this movie.

    But I do know that the song BASTI BASTI PARBAT PARBAT was a runaway hit in the Nineteen Fifties.

    Thanks a lot for the review.

  3. Sophy, Sunil Dutt was very thin and looked like the gangly 22 year old that he was playing! I like him better in the 60s after he had filled out a bit. Inspite of that, I must admit that thin Sunil Dutt is better than no Sunil Dutt! :-)

    Nasir, thank you so much! I cant believe you haven't seen this one yet - run to your nearest DVD shop. :-)

    The film had some lovely songs (Madan Mohan composed and Sahir wrote), but Basti basti parvat parvat was by far the best.

  4. How on earth did I miss this? In the good old DD days, I used to watch everything that was telecast. But will start looking out for this; it sounds unmissable! (and oh, Sunil Dutt looks so wonderful - especially in that last screen cap of his). :-)

  5. I just love such idealistic films!!!!
    I WANT TO SEE IT! And everytime in Bombay I go searching for its VCD or DVd or whatever but always unsuccesful!
    Nalini Jaywant, Sheila Ramani and Sunil Dutt look so damn beautiful!
    What eye-candy!

    Thanks for the treat!

  6. I'd love to see this film. Sunil Dutt, trains, Johny Walker and a big cast.

  7. I love your opening lines - they're so true. I kinda of miss those "what move will DD show this week" days. There's a certain freedom in not having to select the movie you're going to watch!:-)

    As for "Railway Platform", I LOVED Johnny Walker in it. I believe it's one of his earliest roles and he does such a fine job as the villian that I'm surprised he didn't get typecast as one.

    As lovely as the music of Railway Platform is, I was very sad to find that the best song (IMHO), "chand maddham hai aasman chhup hai" had once again been cut from the film. :-(

  8. Thanks, Bollyviewer, for a wonderful review of what sounds like a totally charming film. And c'mon: all social problems can be resolved in 24 hours with enough tight slaps, romantic triangles, and Madan Mohan songs!

  9. This sounds lovely! And on a completely shallow note, I am lusting after the ladies' clothes, especially the Western wear. That's classy. Also, for a second I thought that your subtitles were from the movie itself, not from your imagination, and was saying, "They quoted Lord Byron? Really? Did anybody know that's what they were doing?" Ahem. I am slow, but steady.

  10. dustedoff, B/W Sunil Dutt is always a good thing! You should definitely try to get your hands on this.

    harvey, I am pretty certain that you will like it. My copy came from an Indian store in Netherlands or Germany, so it should be available in India. Let me know if you have trouble finding it. I will happily share my copy!

    Banno, the cast is really interesting but the train part is pretty limited, inspite of the title.

    Shalini, I do like having my freedom of choice, but there is no denying that DD of yore got me watching a whole better class of films than I would normally watch! ;-) The only thing I miss now is the eager anticipation for Sunday evenings - one film per week tends to sharpen the appetite quite a bit!

    Johny Walker didn't get typecast as a villain probably because his comedy act was way more popular, or maybe this film wasn't a big hit?

    I dont think I've ever come across Chand maddham hai! Who sang it?

    haha Pessimisissimo, you are clearly the right audience for this film! Get thee a copy, pronto. :-)

    ajnabi, the phrase you are looking for is "misquoted Byron"! :-) I hope he'll forgive me for making free with his ode to beauty.

  11. Hi,
    I missed this one. I just love Sunil Dutt. Have to watch this one for sure :)

  12. I'll try again and if I don't find it, I know whose door I have to knock!

  13. In some sites, this movie is listed as the debut movie of Dharmendra as well. Did you catch a glimpse of this actor in the movie?

  14. Sharmi, Sunil Dutt is pretty worth loving in his B/W days! I wouldn't miss this for worlds. :D

    harvey, you sure do!

    Shashi, I hadn't heard that! There was no visible Dharmendra in my copy, but its possible that his part was cut (there were lots of cuts in the print) or maybe he was too young and thin and un-recognisable in an insignificant part. I'll keep a lookout for him on my next watch!

  15. I love Sunil too, but i always thought Ek Hi raasta was his debut for some reason, is this on dvd with subs

  16. BTW i so agree with nasir's comment

  17. Great review, thanks! I pulled out of reading it half way through when it became obvious I must see this movie, if only for my beloved Badruddin as a baddie!

  18. bollywooddeewana, this one is on DVD, but my copy is not subtitled. Ek Hi Raasta sounds close enough in time to this to have been his debut - it may have been the first film he shot for, while this was the first one released? He is billed as "introducing" Sunil Dutt, in this one.

    max, your "beloved Badruddin as a baddie" is fun to watch (though not quite as alliterative)! :-) Hope you get to see this, soon.

  19. Yes, Shashi is right. Railway platform on many internet sites is listed as Dharmendra's debut movie. He'd have been 19-20 then. Anyway he first shows up (and very nicely too) in Arjun Hingorani's Dil bhi tera hum bhi tere.

  20. I would love to see 19-20 year old Dharam onscreen! Hope he is in the film and does show up on a re-watch. :-)

  21. I just got this and can't wait to see it...will be back to read your review in detail then :)

  22. I agree with Nasir too....I actually felt like I was watching the movie. Like you, I like Sunil Dutt better in the 60s after he had filled out a bit but again thin Sunil Dutt is better than no Sunil Dutt! :-)
    I had seen very young Dharmendra in Boyfriend, and I feel the same about him as well. I like him better after he had filled out a big.
    Off to order for this movie.

  23. I agree with sunheriyaadein about younger Dharmendra. He does look haggard in his earliest movies. But lo and behold! just within two years he became one of the most handsome men of the Indian Silver Screen (Aayee Milan ki Bela, 1963). I remember some of my Arab friends expressing surprise that the heroine in the movie should choose Rajendra. (But there was no point in telling them how things work in Bollywood and that Dharmendra was just a beginner. Add to that the psyche of our Indian heroines who are not swayed by looks but by a gentle heart! )

    Having said that, I say that both these stars are among my most favourite ones.

  24. Dharmendra in "Aayee milan ki bela"--oof. The most beautiful in all the planet --that is what the mirror mirror said.
    I'm waiting for someone to compile a Dharam top ten gorgeous screen moments.

  25. memsaab, cant wait to hear what you think of it! Hope you enjoy it.

    sunheriyaadein, thank you! I hope that wont put you off actually watching the film!! Young Dharam looked... well... very young even in Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere - guess some people just bloom a bit later in life! :-)

    Nasir, I know all about Bollywood's filmi conventions and star system, but even then, I was surprised that Saira fell for Rajendra Kumar in that film! Thankfully Bollywood mein der hai andher nahin. ;D

    sophy, is it even possible to compile Dharam's top ten gorgeous moments? He was gorgeous from early 60s right up to early 70s (I dont care for his long hair, after that) - and that encompasses tons of films and countless gorgeous moments!

  26. Too true - can't limit capturing Dharam's best moments to a mere 10. Would be a very tough job indeed. The sad part is that none of his betas are even an inch closer to any of his charms ie looks, acting or anything.

    Satyakam is one of Dharam's best movies. Have you seen and reviewed it oig?

  27. Filmbuff, I remember watching Satyakaam years ago and not liking it much. Dharam's character in that film has this unbending, rigid idealism that I equate more with fanaticism than true goodness, and which I find more than ordinarily off-putting. If I happen to watch it again, I will definitely write it up. At the moment though, I'd much rather re-watch Devar (and its soap-opera-ish tragedy) for Dharmila goodness. :-)