Genre, Iconography & Ideology: Imaginings of the Train in Indian Cinema – Conclusion: New Filmic Spaces

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This series has tried to examine the role of the train as an iconographic component in the lexicon of Indian cinema, pausing to analyse sequences to detail the aesthetic and thematic significance of the train. Hutchings (1995: 69) argues ‘a film genre’s outer form was its iconography and its inner form its thematic identity’. If we interpret thematic identity as ideology and having surveyed the visual image of the train through Indian cinema, one of the first conclusions we can draw is that both the outer and inner form are in a constant dialogue with each other and it is impossible to separate them; iconography informs ideology and vice versa. Furthermore, the recurrence of the train through so many genres and cinemas does so in accordance with other readily identifiable visual elements (song and dance) offering an iconographic unity to the aesthetic structure of Indian films.

This shared visual grammar amongst Indian film directors and unspoken iconographic understanding challenges yet again the totality of auteurism. Still, it could be argued that since the train has never been specific to any single genre in Indian cinema, ‘the emergence of genre cinema’ (Vasudevan, 2011: 387) in recent years has inevitably meant the train as an iconographic component inherent to Indian narrative cinema could eventually disappear. Vasudevan (2011: 387) uses the example of director Ram Gopal Varma as epitomising this new genre sensibility, ‘reproducing a Hollywood standard of narrative integration, character-driven, and point of view storytelling’. Varma has worked in both the horror and gangster film genres with a Hollywood like approach to narrative and thematic choices.

Another decidedly patent discovery is the way the train has evolved over time as a narrative, thematic and ideological element ‘marked fundamentally by difference, variation and change’ (Neale, 1990: 56), representative of the way film genres function, extending the repertoire ‘by adding a new element or by transgressing one of the old ones’ (Neale, 1990: 56). Creative modernism has been key to the constancy of the train in Indian cinema. Filmmakers have always sought out new ways of visualising the train, thus feeding into what Steve Neale (1990: 46) calls ‘systems of expectation and hypothesis which spectators bring with them to the cinema’. Neale’s argument on the expectations engendered by film genres is an important one and although this series has not afforded me the opportunity to consider the role of the audience in relation to the train my final point towards the end of this conclusion will briefly outline potential audience research that could be undertaken to develop this study further.

I want to conclude, considering rapid transport in India, focusing on the Delhi Metro, which has the potential to challenge the train as a new site of urban ideological exchange for Indian cinema. The Delhi Metro began operating in 2002, offering Delhi a contemporary urban identity and Indian cinema a fresh new filmic space. The Delhi Metro has featured in a number of mainstream Hindi films including Paa (Father, 2009), Love Aaj Kal (Love Nowadays, 2009), Dev D (2009) and Delhi 6 (2009). In the cultural geography of spaces and places (see: Marc Auge, 1995) the Metro could be deemed a ‘non-place’, since it ‘cannot be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity’ (Auge, 1995: 77) unlike the train. Auge argues ‘supermodernity produces non-places’ (Auge, 1995: 78) such as hospitals, holiday clubs, supermarkets that are about ‘the temporary and ephemeral’ (Auge, 1995: 78). The Delhi Metro as new filmic mise-en-scene connotes a sanitised, controlled space, in stark contrast to the intimacy, noise and disorder of the train.

Simultaneously the Delhi Metro has been interpreted as a space of gender liberation. Here I want to bring in the ethnographic view of the Delhi Metro by Rashmi Sadana in which sees looks specifically at space as ideology. Sadana (2010: 82) says the ‘gender neutrality’ on the Metro makes it ‘a safe space for women’ and links her study to recent Indian films. In Delhi 6, Bittoo (Sonam Kapoor), a young Muslim girl, ‘trying to forge her own identity’ (2010: 82) is ‘framed by her going into and out of metro stations’ (2010: 82) in which ‘she sheds her salwar-kameez for belly button revealing tight tops’ (2010: 82). This refutes Auge’s argument about the Metro as a non-place, offering a cultural space for Bittoo to create a new identity while transgressing traditional gender expectations. In many ways, it is the newness of the Delhi Metro that has attracted Indian cinema, offering an image of a super modern, technologically advanced India that runs contrary to the old, polluting and archaic image of the ubiquitous train. It is unlikely that the Delhi Metro represents a threat to the iconography of the train but it does offer filmmakers with new possibilities with which to stage songs, action and romance.

Film genre as an academic discipline still leads to an ‘unduly prescriptive form of criticism’ (Ryall, 1978: 24) particularly when films are determined by thematic content. The iconographic interpretation of the visual culture of Indian films by film audiences is a question that remains unanswered in the context of this study. What role does the audience play in determining genre? What expectations are provoked when a train appears on screen? In many ways, the audience is intrinsic to the way genres function and the pleasures they offer. More research into the way audiences use Indian film genres would be useful here in answering significant questions about ‘whether the image has a meaning which is independent of the director’s use of it’ (Ryall, 1978: 32). Perhaps the most appropriate way of situating the duality of the train as an iconographic and ideological visual element of Indian cinema is through viewing genres as ‘patterns/forms/styles/ structures which transcend individual films, and which supervise both their construction by the filmmaker and their reading by an audience’ (Ryall, 1975: 27 – 28).

The train is one of many patterns, images and iconography present in the visual grammar of Indian cinema. Film genres are still defined on thematic and ideological lines. Then in the context of Indian cinema especially popular Hindi cinema that communicates with audiences in predominantly visual terms, the significance of Panofsky’s iconology becomes even more salient as ‘it emphasized the visual motifs and symbolic language of art rather than individual or mythic narrative’ (Flint, 2004: 32). If anything, the train is an enduring image in Indian culture, which films have used to narrate, negotiate and contest cultural, national and personal ideologies ‘that provide both familiarity and variety’ (Flint, 2004: 32-33) for audiences.


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Filmography (films appear in the order cited in the text)

Sattawis Down / 27 Down (Awtar Krishna Paul, 1974)
Chennai Express (Rohit Shetty, 2013)
Meghe Dhaka Tara / The Cloud Capped Star (Ritwik Ghatak, 1960)
Yaadon Ki Baraat / Procession of Memories (Nasir Hussain, 1973)
Aradhana / Worship (Shakti Samanta, 1969)
Satya / Truth (Ram Gopal Varma, 1998)
Company (Ram Gopal Varma, 2002)
Sarkar / Government (Ram Gopal Varma, 2005)
Ab Tak Chhappan / So far fifty six (Shimit Amin, 2004)
Kaminey / Scoundrels (Vishal Bhardwaj, 2009)
D (Vishram Sawant, 2005)
Black Friday (Anurag Kashyap, 2004)
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge / The Brave Hearted Will Take Away the Bride (Aditya Chopra, 1995)
The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012)
A Kiss in the Tunnel (G. A. Smith, 1899)
The Story of Film: An Odyssey (Mark Cousins, 2011)
L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat / The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station (Lumieres, 1896)La Roue / The Wheel (Abel Gance, 1923)
Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
Panorama of Calcutta, India, from the River Ganges (1899)
Jawani Ki Hawa / The Wind of Youth (Franz Osten, 1935)
Vilasi Ishwar / Orphans of the Storm (Master Vinayak, 1935)
Achhut Kanya / The Untouchable Girl (Franz Osten, 1936)
Manzil / Destination (P. C. Barua, 1936)
Miss Frontier Mail (Homi Wadia, 1936)
Sholay / Flames (Ramesh Sippy, 1975)
The Great Train Robbery (Edwin Porter, 1903)
Khotey Sikkay (Narendra Bedi, 1974)
The Burning Train (Ravi Chopra, 1980)
The Towering Inferno (John Guillermin, 1974)
The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock, 1938)
Dhoom 2 (Sanjay Gadhvi, 2006)
Solva Saal / Sixteenth Year (Raj Khosla, 1958)
Kala Bazar / Black Market (Vijay Anand, 1960)
Dil Se / From the Heart (Mani Ratnam, 1998)
Baazi / Gamble (Guru Dutt, 1951)
Jaal / Trap (Guru Dutt, 1952)
Taxi Driver (Chetan Anand, 1954)
The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson, 2007)
Barfi (Anurag Basu, 2012)
Parineeta / The Married Woman (Pradeep Sarkar, 2005)
Dabangg (Abhinav Kashyap, 2010)
Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)
Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophuls, 1948)
Pather Panchali / Song of the Little Road (Satyajit Ray, 1955)
Aparajito / The Unvanquished (Satyajit Ray, 1956)
Apur Sansar / The World of Apu (Satyajit Ray, 1959)
Abhijan / The Expedition (Satyajit Ray, 1962)
Nayak / The Hero (Satyajit Ray, 1966)
Aag / Fire (Raj Kapoor, 1948)
Lahore (M. L. Anand, 1949)
Chhalia (Manmohan Desai, 1960)
1947: Earth (Deepa Mehta, 1998)
Train to Pakistan (Pamela Rooks, 1998)
Swades / Homeland (Ashutosh Gowariker, 2004)
Ra One (Anubhav Sinha, 2011)
Main Hoon Na / I am Here (Farah Khan, 2004)
Mumbai Meri Jaan / Mumbai My Life (Nishikant Kumar, 2008)
Paa / Father (R. Balki, 2009)
Love Aaj Kal / Love Nowadays (Imtiaz Ali, 2009)
Dev D (Anurag Kashyap, 2009)
Delhi 6 (Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, 2009)



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