NASIR (Dir. Arun Karthick, 2020, India/Netherlands/Singapore)


The politics of racial hatred lingers in the rhetoric of a number of recent Indian films but it is often a subtext which comes and goes, failing to resonate such as in the overrated, faux Gully Boy, a deeply problematic work about Muslims in India today that wretchedly glances over the questions of representation in favour of condescending memoranda. In Arun Karthick’s Nasir, it is not rhetoric but something more substantial, pressing and unsettling in the trajectory the narrative takes. We are in Coimbatore, a Muslim ghetto, in Tamil Nadu. Nasir, a salesman who works at a local textile store, is played by Valavane Koumarane (a Franco-Indian theatre actor) who impresses in the lead role, projecting a composure that is measured in his benevolent social interactions. It would be wrong to argue a fatalism permeates the reticent mood of this gutsy work because it is a kind of political fatalism far removed from the genre context of noir. In fact, it is a fatalism nurtured by those around Nasir who in their both causal and explicit racism towards Muslims is part of a wider amplification of hate instigated and fuelled by the motley ways in which Hindutva has colonised popular discourse with an insipid brand of nationalism. Moreover, the film seems to ask to what degree have the so called ordinary citizens of India helped to instrumentalize communal bigotry through the distorted haze of social media. Dissent, a dangerous concept in Modi’s India, is re-imagined in the figure of Nasir, a Muslim who exists on the margins but grasps and practices the separation between religion and work. There is no fanaticism at work in the Muslim; that appears to be a problem inherently associated with an invisible mob, deliberately non descriptive whereby the suggestion that communalism can cut right through society becomes altogether terrifying.

The film opens with the Azaan (the Muslim call to prayer), an aural expression of Islam and the Muslimness of the ghettoized milieu, over the image of Nasir lying down. This unassuming opening is one of the most defiant and provocative political moments in contemporary Indian cinema in recent memory. But what exactly is being said here? Considering the extent to which the Azaan has been pithily derided and castigated in the public eye by Hindutva including personalities such as Sonu Nigam, the choice arrangement of the Azaan at the beginning of the film is of course a celebratory embrace of a faded secularism, remarking co-existence should and has always been an accepted part of Indian cultural life. Muslims do belong. However, as soon as Nasir and his wife Fatima go shopping in the markets, over the loudspeakers we hear a familiar political rhetoric of Muslims posing a danger to the values of India: ‘Today, danger advances on our motherland. Invaders, migrants, traitors and rebels seek to corner Tamilnadu and destroy it!’, comes the metaphorical refrain, a coded denouncement of Muslims as historically treacherous. If the othering of the Muslims as the enemy, denied a sense of belonging and citizenship, clashes with the aural symbolism of the opening Azaan, this is also the first instance in the film where racial hatred is not something going on beneath the surface or being discussed in secret amongst a few bigoted filled people, but is aired publicly since this is the new norm.

In terms of film style, the semi-observational approach coupled with an open frame is a welcoming sight, that mirrors Chaityanne’s award winning Court from a few years back. Both of these counter hegemonic works understand how politics can be communicated through quiet, uneventful and ordinary glimpses into life as it is. The everyday struggle Nasir faces is summed up quite brilliantly in the sequence in the textile store where he overhears a co-worker openly encouraging an upcoming Hindu festival to march through a nearby Muslim area. It is worth noting there is a brief exchange about videos the co-worker has forwarded, most likely of mob rule incidents, and shared of course through Whatsapp. Nasir, paralysed in the centre of the frame, is forced to listen to the rhetoric of religious intolerance. As Karthick notes in an interview, the use of the 4:3 ratio in which the film is shot, boxes in Nasir. Nasir feel anxious, never quite believing communal mob law could happen to him, finding a solace in his faith, although the film is careful never to categorise him as indiscriminately devoted to Islam.

The anxiety of continually being labelled as the other seems perpetual but it is faith that instils a tolerance in Nasir. In a sequence in a mosque, Nasir’s devotion is magnified in the rituals of Wudu and later prayer, the rhythmical combination of abstract shots amounts to something sublimely transcendental. De-centring the popular and damaging image of the threatening Muslim male is one that the film succeeds in achieving on a number of levels and that seems unheard of Indian cinema. Most films which depict the lives of Muslims often overlook or fail to address the wider socio-economic context of unemployment, deprivation and poverty faced by Muslims in India today. Nasir’s menial job as a salesman, the relatively poor housing conditions, and the lack of medical treatment for his ailing mother are interconnected in the oppression of Muslims in many facets of life in India.

Since events unfold over a day, creating a sense of impending doom, Nasir’s abundant social interactions amount to someone who never stops moving; consumed by the sheer pressures of daily life Nasir barely has time to think or get angry. One sequence towards the end finds Nasir on a mini excursion to an elite boy’s hostel to return blazers, trying his best to make some extra money, coming face to face with an economic and caste privilege that remains ingrained in the cultural fabric. Nasir won the NETPAC award at Rotterdam earlier this year and what director Arun Karthick has crafted with this second film is a virtuoso slice of neo-realism; augmenting the superfluous with an overriding, prescient ideological agenda that never feels strained. Karthick spent two years in the Muslim neighbourhood of Coimbatore, immersing himself in the milieu, unlocking palpable urban spaces, an invaluable detail that is reflected in the authentic feel for on location shooting. Where the film draws its greatest power is in the horrifying ending, one that resonated and left me moved to tears. At stake is not only the persecutory anti-Muslim mob violence that has taken hold of the paranoid subconscious but the erosion of religious tolerance and co-existence. In terms of political cinema, the final shot is nothing short of a miracle.

CHARACHAR / Shelter of the Wings (Dir. Buddhadeb Dasgupta, India, 1994)


Filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta opens with Lakhinder (Rajit Kapur), a bird catcher who has been traumatised by the early death of his three year old son, freeing a succession of birds. Juxtaposed to the morning sky, the benign gesture of Lakhinder opening his hand to release a bird crystallises a key theme; the want to escape from this fraudulent world. As we discover, the dreams that haunt Lakhinder, all of them to do with birds, are connected in his memories to his dead son. Dasgupta uses this personal narrative about loss to explore a wider existential theme to do with the equilibrium between man and nature, of which Lakhinder suspects he has violated and attempts to restore. Early on in the film, Lakhinder, a hereditary bird catcher, announces nonchalantly his refusal to catch and sell birds just so they can be consumed by city folk. This moral stance against the ways in which modernity and urban life continually exploit and swallow the environment, disrupting the everyday patterns of life disgusts Lakhinder. Rejecting the marketplace, Lakhinder becomes increasingly intertwined with the birds around him. There is a recognition the birds not only symbolically recall the ghostly memories of his dead son, but also harbour something sacred about the environment that demands to be protected. Disavowal turns into yearning for a physical transformation, Lakhinder expressing his want to become a bird and fly away, culminating in a spectacular deliverance. Lakhinder is played by Rajit Kapur, in one of his first roles, and who would go on to become a recurring presence in the later films of Shyam Benegal. Released in 1994, Charachar came at the end of Parallel Cinema, and is one of Dasgupta’s most visually arresting works; a haunting statement about nature, the environment, and a moving portrait of grief.

IRRFAN KHAN (1967 – 2020) ‘I don’t know when I became old…’


Irrfan Khan had been ill for a while now. Many of us thought he had recovered for the better. His death has come as a shock to the film industry and at the age of 53 he has passed on tragically early in a career that was gaining momentum with each year. Back in 2017 when I was planning the first year of Not Just Bollywood for HOME in Manchester, I contacted Irrfan through Twitter, and as I expected his kind response was full of enthusiasm for the prospect of being a guest. He instructed me to contact his manager which I did. Unfortunately, Irrfan was always too busy and we could never quite make the dates fit with his busy schedule. The first film we screened for Not Just Bollywood in September 2017 was The Lunchbox which played to a full audience. I was also involved with the screening of Qissa in 2017, programmed at HOME as part of a weekender on Partition, and which featured a Q&A with director Anup Singh who spoke fondly of Irrfan. We had planned to do something around his career for the September season of NJB at HOME, and there was talk of inviting Irrfan in the coming months. However, the heart-breaking news of his death comes as a reminder of the precarious times we live in. The moving tributes by the artists he worked with through his career paint a picture of someone who was selfless, kind and hardworking; an actor who didn’t live in the shadow of his star persona.

The international success Irrfan enjoyed as an actor came relatively late in his career and a lot of discussion regarding his work will likely focus on those films which gained international recognition and crossed over such as Life of Pi. Although Irrfan did work in popular Hindi cinema, he can in no way be claimed as a Bollywood actor. His eclectic approach to acting saw him shift with a versatility across a wide gamut of roles, genres and industries, although he often showed an inclination towards independent and international films. An actor trained in theatre and who searched his way through the late 1980s and much of the 1990s, showing up in an early role in Nair’s seminal Salaam Bombay, Irrfan’s real breakthrough was arguably in Asif Kapadia’s striking debut feature The Warrior in 2001. In many ways, Irrfan’s sensibilities seemed to follow in the spirit of another trailblazer – the late Om Puri, who also forged a cosmopolitan identity as an actor. Incidentally, both Irrfan and Om Puri were cast in Maqbool, the first of Vishal Bhardwaj’s contemporary interpretations of Shakespeare. Irrfan had a palpable screen presence, exuding a kindness and warmth in many of his roles that set him apart from his contemporaries. But he could also manifest a brooding intensity for his darker roles such as Qissa and Paan Singh Tomar. Perhaps more than anything it was range that Irrfan had in his oeuvre, showing a knack for comic timing in films like Blackmail, Piku and Karwaan. Admittedly, Irrfan’s transnational star status with films like Spiderman and Jurassic World situated him in an exceptional position amongst fellow Indian actors, accentuating his willingness to transcend certain boundaries imposed on foreign film stars. Irrfan had a precious vernacular of classicism and modernism which communicated a hybridity, reinvention and reflexivity of what stardom signified today. There was a diasporic, transient quality to the way he was constantly shifting across borders. Irrfan’s Muslimness, a very personal thing, erased in the public eye, advocated a secular and pragmatic star persona and one that seemed to embrace a spiritual philosophy.

What I want to do is turn to a favourite moment, from The Lunchbox, the film that cemented his status as one of the best actors of his generation and made audiences and critics aware of how someone like Irrfan had gone unnoticed for so many years. Already a classic of Indian cinema, director Ritesh Batra’s finely tuned melodrama was an unexpected international success. Featuring a triptych of striking performances from Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, this is an endearing work that connects food and romance with a beguiling charm. Shot entirely on location in Mumbai, Batra’s script incorporates the tradition of dabbawallas who deliver hot food in tiffins to workers during lunchtime. The film won numerous international awards and controversially missed out on being India’s Oscar entry for 2013, and had it been nominated, it probably would have gone on to win.

The sequence in question I have chosen unfolds towards the end of the film. It is a moment that precedes the anticipated meeting between Ila (Nimrat Kaur) and Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan). The sequence begins with the familiarity of Fernandes getting ready for work, fixing his tie and throwing his bag over his shoulder. In a mirror, Fernandes pats his face from the fresh shave he has just had. Having exited, he abruptly returns to the bedroom, taking out his spectacles and scrutinising his shave, noticing the stubble with the white flecks of hair are still present.


Batra chooses to frame this moment in a master shot of the bedroom. The emptiness of the frame around Fernandes echoes not his loneliness but reiterates the ways in which his life is confined to a few spaces, most of them related to his journey to work and back. Fernandes touching the stubble on his chin, which no matter what you do when you reach middle age becomes irreversible, is a detail of growing old and the first of many gestures magnified by the tender way in which Irrfan carries himself. Since Fernandes needs the spectacles to see properly now is yet another gesture of aging. It suddenly grows into an anxiety when Fernandes goes to the bathroom to take an even closer look at his unremarkable to capacity to shave closely.


In another master shot, the bathroom, a dingy little space, illuminated solely by the small window letting in some morning light, Fernandes wipes the condensation from the mirror. Once again, the tender and unrushed movements by Irrfan elongate his anxieties. This is followed by a brief pause; Fernandes suddenly appears lost in the moment, not sure what he should do. The pause, often a mixture of dread and excitement, was a signature mannerism that Irrfan had perfected over the course of his career. Moreover, in this context, the pause and Fernandes looking around the bathroom as if someone else is with him is an idea that he expands upon later when he refers to his dead grandfather who once also inhabited the same space. This haunting of the present by the past is consolidated in the next cut to of a close up of Fernandes who once again looks around as if sensing the presence of someone else. Is he is a ghost already? If no one remembers him now, who will remember him once he has gone? In an attempt to temporarily evade the anxiety of growing old Fernandes applies some shaving foam/soap to his chin and shaves haphazardly, knowing quite well it is a futile exercise to mask over a new reality. Later Fernandes tells Ila, via another letter, that he is grateful Ila let him into her dreams since his silent observations in the restaurant point to a sadness of what could have been; a painful longing for companionship.

The sequence next cuts to a mid-shot of Fernandes standing in a train as he makes his way to work once more. Yet again, boredom and routine is now amplified by another anxiety; the ephemeral, transient nature of urban life. Although Batra opts for tight framing in this series of shots, a given considering the compact spaces of trains, and pointing to the claustrophobia of urban life, Fernandes is lost in thought, contemplating the choices he has made. All the way through the film, a pattern emerges, a dance in fact, of the stylistic nuances that Irrfan succeeds in performing through the weight and measure of his magical eyes and their related movements. The eyes of Fernandes are constantly pointing downwards through much of the film, invoking a retreat from society, a refusal to look at the world anymore.


When Asif Kapadia cast Irrfan in The Warrior he did so on the basis of his unmistakably hypnotic eyes, a visual trait that Kapadia emboldens throughout the film. Is it any wonder that Kapadia opens The Warrior with a tight close up on the eyes of Irrfan? A fitting way indeed of introducing Irrfan to international film audiences. Irrfan like many of the best actors (Brando, Pacino, Om Puri) trained themselves to modulate their acting through the way they moved their eyes. Irrfan’s eyes were a prominent and defining part of the star persona cultivated by the media and his eyes on screen were a constant and creative source of expression, conveying a lexicon of emotional states. One of the passengers on the train offers Fernandes his place since he is getting off at the next stop. At first Fernandes hesitates since this act of compassion is loaded with social sentiment about age but he sits down anyhow, symbolically accepting his position in society, one that he cannot alter, no matter how much he has fantasised about escaping with Ila to Bhutan.


Next Batra cuts to a wide shot of inside the train compartment with Fernandes sutured into the middle of the frame, encased like a mummy in a tomb, unable to escape and surrounded by passengers. In this moment, Fernandes becomes just another passenger, part of the anonymous urban mass, returning to the mundane and uneventful nature of his daily life, one which he fears will be even lonelier once he retires. On the soundtrack, the clanging sound of the railway carriages becomes more pronounced, taking on a life of its own and intensifying the anxieties of a despondent Fernandes, overwhelming his very existence.


It is only later the true context of what Fernandes has experienced becomes apparent when he relays the meaning of the story to Ila. In this flashback, intercut with Ila and Fernandes at the restaurant, it is worth mentioning that Irrfan is in element as he eavesdrops on Ila. Sitting in the restaurant, the hands and eyes become symptomatic of what Irrfan was able to do in many of his films; reduce everything down to an economical ballet of gestures with much of his elliptical acting style invariably filtered through expressive pregnant pauses, hesitations and sly glances. He controlled audience reaction to his acting through the way he moved his eyes which in themselves were also an extension of the narrative, telling the story through a non-verbal projection.


If Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) symbolises the now, Fernandes is part of a past that has faded away, as illustrated quite explicitly during the rickshaw ride, in which he paints a picture of an ever changing Bombay that has disappeared, replaced by a kind of neoliberal capitalist sheen. Perhaps the key shot, a visual lynchpin, condensing the very soul of the film is the most abstract; Fernandes on his porch obscured by the doorway while listening to radio Bhutan. Elegantly framed, the fractured body of Fernandes, seems to have faded from view. Like his grandfather before him, he too will one day become another memory, a ghost haunting the spaces he once inhabited.



A RIFLE AND A BAG (Dir. NoCut Film Collective, 2020, India/Romania/Italy/Qatar)


What is the price for those who join a political revolution? And what happens once you surrender and attempt to reconcile with a political past? The Naxalite Movement, perhaps one of the most sustained political folk/tribal movements in the global south, is the focus of this brilliantly observed documentary by the NoCut Film Collective of three international filmmakers; Cristina Hanes (Romania), Isabella Rinaldi (Italy) and Arya Rothe (India). A young Indian couple, Somi Sukhram and Pravin Pranay, who have surrendered to the police now live in a settlement supported by former Naxal comrades. Somi and Pravin have two children and we see how much of a struggle it is to send their older child to school, battling the state bureaucracy of obtaining a caste certificate to verify their tribal status. The documentary juxtaposes the daily rituals of life at home with a series of intimate and revealing conversations in which Somi recollects the memories of her Naxal past, much of which is relayed to her family and children.

Since many Naxal films are often situated in a specific historical past, looking back with trepidation, this documentary shifts to a contemporary context, reminding us the Maoist insurgency is still part of daily life for many in India. The oppositional radical empowerment of Naxalite ideology is inescapable, infectious and Somi is prone to passing on her tales of resistance to her children. However, as we learn, Naxals who have surrendered, are not only shunned by wider society but also the movement itself. In the case of Somi and Pravin, their status as outsiders is doubly magnified since they also belong to a lower tribal caste. The lack of historical and political context regarding the Naxalite movement may at first appear like an oversight but drawing away from a lengthy lesson in radical histories and strategizing to amplify agency makes for a documentary in which Naxals are never sanitised or censured for the sacrifices they made to join an interminable communist movement which continues to wage a legitimate political struggle and which the filmmakers compassionately bring to life in all its entanglements. 

GAMAK GHAR (Dir. Achal Mishra, 2019, India)


Director Achal Mishra’s impressive debut film is a semi-formalist work, resorting to a succession of absorbing vignettes and framed as tableau in which the historical spatial and temporal configurations of an ancestral family house acts as more than just a pivot, fashioning a sense of the ephemeral and conjuring a steady yet absorbing rhythm. Choosing to use three different aspect ratios may appear gimmicky at first but the logic of this stylistic decision works to signify the transition from one generation to the next. More importantly, the use of three ratios sustains the creation of tonal shifts. For instance, the opening section of the film which Mishra films in the 4:3 aspect ratio conjures a nostalgia through the skilfully colour grading that has a technicolour feel invoking the 1970s and 80s. In terms of filmic influences, the opening shot of a large tree framed against blue skies and meandering path invokes the pastoral landscapes of Ghatak’s films notably Meghe Dhaka Tara. The opening segues into an extended sequence that surveys the rhythms, intricacies and intimacies of a family in the magical glow of life as it is, which largely becomes a signature. Notable is Mishra’s restrained and resolutely observational camera style, framing many of the characters actions through doorways and windows of the family house. The personification of the family house, a conceptual choice, juxtaposed to temporal jumps in the narrative projects the spaces as sacred, sentimental and eventually spectral. A gradual neglect of the home coming to suggest an indisputable sadness is rectified in the ending that points to the ways in which renewal and change are all part of an inevitable historical process.

AAKROSH / Cry of the Wounded [Dir. Govind Nihalani, 1980, India] – ‘I burn from within…’


In the dialogue-less opening to Aakrosh, Bhiku (Om Puri), the Adivasi labourer looks on in chains as the body of his dead wife (Smita Patil in a cameo) is cremated before he is led away by the police to jail. The pot marked face, protruding eyes, leathery skin of Bhiku amount to an image of the lower caste worker as a subjugated, exhausted figure which typified the alternative representations of the subaltern that became associated with Parallel Cinema in the 1970s and 1980s. Bhiku’s interminable silence, arguably contradicting the attempts to articulate the subaltern as more authentic and visible, is used as a broader political metaphor anchored in the opening lyrics: ‘I am unable to endure the pain anymore…I burn from within’. Bhiku is charged with strangling his wife to death and defended by Bhaskar, an idealistic lawyer played deftly by Naseeruddin Shah. Bhaskar soon discovers that Bhiku’s case is more complex than he imagines, concealing a caste led conspiracy in which four upper caste men have raped and murdered Bhiku’s wife. Although director Govind Nihalani weaves together an effective thriller, grasping the nuances of genre, the tone of political outrage, much of which is exemplified in Bhaskar’s anger and paranoia, transforms the work into a somewhat didactic yet measured study of caste, middle class hypocrisy (a theme Nihalani returned to with great satirical accomplishment in Party) and power.

The caste politics are complicated by public prosecutor Dushane (Amrish Puri in fine form), a lower caste lawyer who is resigned to masking over his caste identity so to protect the very totalizing system into which he has been readily assimilated. Dushane is a self-hating figure, labelling Bhiku a savage tribesman who drinks alcohol and creates mayhem. However, Dushane is troubled by hostile late night phone calls that remind him of his lower caste status, tearing down the illusion of social mobility. At one point Dushane mocks Bhaskar for his apprehension, arguing the only reason Bhaskar doesn’t want to defend Bhiku is because a Brahmin sending an Adivasi tribesman to his death doesn’t look very good in today’s changing society. Having broken through the system, Dushane refuses to take up a revolutionary position, showing disdain for his fellow caste oppressed brothers like Bhiku, and choosing to endorse a corrupt, discriminatory system that continues to deny him a true sense of belonging. Dushane serves the law, nothing more. Whereas Bhaskar argues a wider ethical responsibility should take equal precedent. The machinations of a system aligned to protect the few, the privileged and upper caste is another aspect of society that writer Vijay Tendulkar delineates, conveying the ways in which the intricate cogs of an unjust system mesh together and are manifested in acts of state sanctioned violence.

If Dushane compels Bhiku to conform and serve nothing but the law, the activist and social worker working with the Adivasi in the village, is an obvious political metonym for Naxalism. The activist wants to help Bhaskar who is frustrated by his concerted attempts, all of them in vain, to gain the consensual support of Bhiku’s father and sister. In perhaps one of the most overtly didactic moments in the film, the activist, speaking like a true Naxal, tells Bhaskar the Adivasi do not need his sympathy nor pity; for anything to change there needs to be a complete uprooting of the system, the annihilation of the present, a revolutionary ideal which the middle class have kept at bay through their faux sympathies. But as we witness, any challenges or opposition to the system are swiftly snuffed out with a resounding legitimacy and contravention of the law. The attack on Bhaskar by goons working for the ruling elite is the logical conclusion of a lawlessness that permeates a claustrophobic milieu in which the Adivasi remain mute in fear of reprisals and sanctions, be it economic or social.

Where Aakrosh falters is in the abrupt ending. Having tried unsuccessfully to defend Bhiku, Bhaskar and Dushane have a final confrontation. In some respects, when Bhiku takes the life of his sister, hacking her to death at the funeral of his father, that is when the film should have finished; a bleak ending but one deserving of a such a cruel system. Instead, the exchange between Bhaskar and Dushane strives to privilege the worth of Brahmin intervention, thereby undermining the caste agenda, reducing subaltern agency to something insubstantial and underdeveloped. Dushane wants to protect the position of power he has carved out but it comes at the expense of closing the door behind him, leaving a lower caste status in the past as though it never existed. The ending implies the Brahminical saviour seems to be the only one who is incorruptible while it could be argued that Bikhu’s silence ultimately rings hollow, suppressing the momentum of political angst.

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)