There is no train scene that has achieved the DDLJ cult status, but there is a certain enigma to the Shah Rukh Khan-Manisha Koirala encounter at a railway station in Dil Se (1998). Khan’s Amar is smitten even as Koirala’s Meghana is hesitant to make eye contact. It is a standard “boy meets girl at a station” trope that soon acquires sombre undertones.
What the DDLJ scene is to millennials, “Mere Sapno Ki Rani” from Aradhana (1969) is to Gen X-ers. Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore tenderly romance each other in the evergreen song – he croons from a jeep and she dreamily gazes at him from a coach. Similarly in Pakeezah (1972), Raj Kumar meets Meena Kumari inside a train compartment, develops an infatuation, and eventually leaves that famous note complimenting her legs.
In some movies, trains become a companion in tragedy. In Shyam Benegal’s Suraj Ka Satvan Godha (1992), the protagonist Manek Mulla (Rajit Kapur) works for the railway mail service. Through him, we come to know about three women and his tryst with them. There are Tanna and Jamuna, two star-crossed lovers, who meet at a platform after years. This is hardly reconciliation, rather the bitterness comes out – Tanna is in a broken marriage and Jamuna has become a widow. As they depart, Tanna meets with an accident while crossing the tracks.
Trains acted as a sort of unifier in terms of finding love across barriers of class and geography.
While some love stories begin on train journeys, other’s end on platforms. In Teesri Kasam (1966), Raj Kapoor and Waheeda Rahman’s separation happens at a railway station. Sadma (1983) too harps on a ritualistic yet tragic separation at the railway station. In it, Somu (Kamal Haasan) rescues Nehalata (Sridevi) who has lost her memory and brings her to his place, becoming her caretaker and guardian. In a cruel twist of fate, when she eventually regains it, she has no recollection of Somu. And as she takes the train to go back home to her parents, she throws him food, thinking he is a beggar. As the train leaves, Somu is left all alone on the platform, a striking image of loneliness. Even in Raanjhanaa (2013), a similar bittersweet exchange happens: Kundan (Dhanush) is all ready to meet Zoya (Sonam Kapoor) years after they separated at the railway station. His heart is filled with love and he is convinced that Zoya will recognise him. Zoya walks by, unaware of his existence.
Yet there are few directors who’ve used the journey as a metaphor for life. Today no Imtiaz Ali film is complete without a train scene. Back in 2009, in the first Love Aaj Kal, Veer Singh (Rishi Kapoor) tells Jai (Saif Ali Khan) about how desperate he was to meet Harleen (Giselle Monteiro) one last time, as she was shifting to Kolkata with her family. At that point, he had lost all hope of being with her, but when he sees Harleen going away at the station, he decides that his life would be incomplete without her. It’s this story that prompts Saif to get Meera (Deepika Padukone) back. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition of romance in Hindi cinema. Maybe it’s time for another train journey to find what the heart desires.