More than ten years before, when I think I was still a kid, I heard this song from the movie Hindustani (Kamal Hasan starrer): “Telephone dhun mein hasne wali, Melbourne machli machalne wali…”(The woman who laughs like a ringtone, the woman who gyrates like a Melbourne fish). I don’t know if Melbourne fishes have some special skills to imitate Bollywood jhatkas and matkas but anyways coming back to the song, it further says “Sona sona, cellular phone tum ho na, computer ko lekar bramhaand rachaya kya”, which would translate something like this: Oh Dear you are like a cellular phone, have you created this world with your computer?
Funny, isn’t? I simply call it banal. But err, actually it’s imaginative too. Think about this: we have a fairly long and quite monotonous tradition in Bollywood of comparing our heroines with chaand, i.e. moon. Remember the unforgettable “Chaudvi ka chaand ho…” or “Ye chaand sa raushan chehra” from 1960s and 70s? But now, we have something interesting to compare our actresses with. We have cell phones and ring tones.
Technology has always sparked the imagination of our lyricists and moviemakers. And this is nothing new. The classic case is the song from the movie Patanga (1949): “Mere piya gaye Rangoon, wahan se kiya hai telephoon, ki teri yaad satati hai”. (My hubby has gone to Rangoon and from there he calls me on telephone, saying that he misses me). The “tyranny of distance” and missing one’s beloved (as is the case with Patanga song, in which the husband has gone to Burma and therefore he misses his wife who is in Dehradun) is always bridged by a technological aid. Though sometimes nostalgia also grips our directors, and they think of revisiting the past by using Kabootars (pigeons) as messengers between lovers. (The stupid song from Maine Pyar Kiya: “Kabtoor jaa jaa jaa”). Apparently Bhahadur Shah Zafar had many pigeon-messengers in his royal household. But this is quite cheesy in modern times. Isn’t?
However, far more comprehensive than any other mediums of technology in its usage, portrayal and depiction in Bollywood movies and songs are trains. For romance, dance, songs, action, thrill, depicting a host of emotions ranging from separation to re-meeting, trains and railway platforms have provided not only a suitable locale and background for such picturizations but have also acted as a symbol and a metaphor to help plot the narrative of the movie.
A recent movie (Emran Hasmi and Sayali Bhagat starrer) is called The Train. Though I haven’t seen the movie but it is told that Emran’s character Vishal, gets a new twist in his life while travelling in a train, and hence the name of the movie being so. Before that in 1970 a movie came out with the similar name. Or remember the classic of yesteryears, The Burning Train (1980), which turned out to be the greatest thriller of its time. The examples could be multiplied. The famous train sequences and scenes are too numerous to count: the train dacoity scene from the biggest Bollywood buster Sholay, a similar scene from Dhoom 2, the thrilling race scene in Aamir Khan’s starrer Ghulam in which apparently he got alarmingly too close to the train to send a frenzy in the shooting camp and so on.
And then we have quite a few memorable songs picturised on/around trains. The all time hit “Mere sapnon ki raani kab aayegi tu” from the movie Aradhna shows Rajesh Khanna singing this song for his lover (portrayed by Sharmila Tagore) who is sitting by the window in a railway carriage. Or think of one of the best “item songs” of the recent years, “Chaiyaa Chaiyaa” from the movie Dil Se, in which Shahrukh and Malaika shake their legs on the top of the train. The exquisite locale through which the train passes makes the song a visual delight to watch.
If on the one hand the cinematic appeal of the railways has attracted the moviemakers from a long time, that appeal has also, on the other hand, been creatively situated in the narrative to provide a more nuanced meaning to the movie. It has been used as a metaphor to depict desire, escape, change of life, a beginning, fulfilment of dreams and so on. Those who have seen the movie Pakeezah would recall the whistle of the passing train, which unsettles the character of Meena Kumari. I think, apart from anything else, what provided a real momentous and pushed the narrative of the film further was this passing train, which both unnerved and rekindled a hope in Meena’s character. She was then reminded of the past (the opening scene of the movie) in which while travelling on the train she was complimented for her beautiful feet. That memory, which the passing train always revived, was central to any of her hopes to get out of her present situation (a change in her world).
Trains have also been used as carriers of dreams. Raju from the movie Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (played by SRK) aspires to become successful in his life, and he boards a train to Mumbai. The typical characterisation of Mumbai as a “dream city” in Bollywood is strengthened by this connectivity, which a train provides to a million of aspiring youth to make it big. in their lives. Exodus from small towns, as was the case in a recent movie, Bunty and Bubbly, relies on trains, and then we get some more songs either about trains (“Dhadak dhadak dhuwan udaye rail”) or songs picturised on trains.
The nexus between trains and Bollywood is thus too entrenched. Lovers meet for the first time either on trains or on railway platforms (like in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le jaayenge) or a new life starts with the symbolic departure of train (like in internationally acclaimed movie Water, in which the small girl, Chuhiya, is taken afar by John Abraham into a world of new life, away from her miserable abode in a widow home, (which surreptitiously ran prostitution).
In this context, the Melbourne machlis are not odd ones out. But still I feel that song is more of a sort of jumble-mumble of lyricist’s imagination, quite a wild imagination, to say the least.