Railway Platform (1955)

Railway Platform begins, not on a platform, but in a train.

It starts with a song, Basti-basti parbat-parbat gaata jaaye banjaara, lip-synched by a philosopher and poet (Manmohan Krishna) as he rides in a crowded train compartment. This man, only referred to as ‘kavi’ (poet) throughout the film, acts as a sort of sutradhar. Not strictly the holder of the puppet strings, not always a narrator, but a voice of reason, of conscience, of dissent. His favourite saying is that “Two and two do not always make four; they sometimes make twenty-two.”

The kavi sings a song

But more about this philosopher later. Right now, in the train, some of the people sitting around are appreciative of the man’s singing, but 22-year old Ram (Sunil Dutt, in his debut role), travelling with his widowed mother (Leela Misra) and his sister Bimla, is grumpy and irritated.

Ram with his mother and sister
Ram seems to be somewhat hot-headed, and his mother tries to soothe the hurt feelings of a pair of fellow passengers (one of whom is Tuntun) by telling them that poor Ram has more than his fair share of worries. Despite being well-educated (mum sold all her jewelry to pay for his education), he hasn’t been able to find employment. And, to make matters worse, they aren’t being able to find a good [read: not greedy] groom for Bimla. The last match they found wanted Rs 5,000.

A chat with some fellow passengers
The train journey comes to an abrupt halt at a small railway station [ironically enough, there is little evidence of a platform, though there is a station master’s office]. The passengers spill out of their compartments and arrive at his office in twos and threes. This is where we get to see a glimpse of the cross-sections of society travelling in this train.

Ram and his womenfolk are, like the others in their compartment, used to the hardships of life. But there are others—in the first class and other more upmarket compartments—who are a different breed altogether. There is, for instance, a mysterious but imperious young woman (Sheila Ramani) who is obviously used to ordering everybody around.

Ram meets a princess in disguise
In a very brief scene, we (not her fellow passengers, though) discover that she is a princess. She’s  run away from home after her father, the Maharaja of Andher Nagari (Raj Mehra) has arranged her marriage with a man she does not care for.

The maaraja of Andher Nagari
The princess is keeping her identity under wraps, but she can’t help but be a little apprehensive when she discovers that the stalled train is still in Andher Nagari territory. This means that it’s not difficult for her father to haul her back if he finds her. [Though it is somewhat forced, the name ‘Andher Nagari’ for this stretch of land turns out to be, as the film progresses, singularly prophetic. Not because it’s barren or mosquito-infested, but because the rot here is deep and widespread—and starts at the top, with the Maharaja himself].

Less imperious than the princess, but also wealthy are a bunch of fashionable urbanites, led by the Kapoors (Mrs Kapoor is played by a young Nishi Kohli), English-speaking, alcohol-guzzling, and wanting to know why the delay, and when they will get to Bombay. One of them says this delay is terrible, because it might make him miss the cricket match between India and the West Indies.
Another complains that he’ll miss the wedding of his friend’s dog, for which he’s been invited. What a catastrophe that will be.

At the station master's office
Amidst all of these, there’s the slimy Sethij, Naseeb Chand (a potbellied Johnny Walker), with a child bride and a general dogsbody named Nihal Chand in tow. Naseeb Chand, like the others, is anxious to know what’s happened.

The station master (Nana Palsikar) tells them. It turns out that floods have washed away a bridge further along the railway line. It’ll take at least 24 hours to get the bridge fixed [is this India we’re talking about? I’d think 24 weeks would be a more realistic estimate]. Till then, the train will have to stay here. And the passengers will have to make shift as best as they can.

To the flurry of questions that follow, he replies that there isn’t a hotel or guest house around. They can stay on the train. To queries about food and water, he says that about a furlong away, there’s a shop which sells food. Next to it is the shopkeeper’s well.

The station master answers some queries
While the others are still busy complaining, Naseeb Chand has sniffed out an opportunity to make money. Along with his man Nihal Chand, he goes off to find the shop. Naseeb Chand has a chat with the shopkeeper and his daughter Naina (Nalini Jaywant) and makes a proposition. He will rent their shop—and the adjoining well—for the next 24 hours. He will pay them Rs 150 for both.

Seth Naseeb Chand gets an idea...
This amount is beyond Naina’s comprehension. She can only count up to twenty, so Naseeb Chand has to finally explain to her that he intends to give her ‘seven twenties’ for the shop and well. My! What good fortune! Naina is ecstatic. The money—and the rented property—exchanges hands there and then.

... and follows through on it
And this sets the basis for much of the story. Because Naseeb Chand’s avarice knows no bounds. The next person who arrives at the shop wanting to buy food is quoted an exorbitant price for a couple of puris and sabzi. Naina, going to the well to draw water, finds Naseeb Chand in her path [and, with that paunch of his, he’s pretty good at blocking paths when he sets his mind—and body—to it]. The well has been temporarily sold to him, he reminds Naina; if she wants water, she has to pay for it, like everybody else.

Naina is horrified. He’s selling water? How dare he! She tries to fling his money back in Naseeb Chand’s face, but he doesn’t take it—and tells her they had an agreement. She cannot now go back on her word.

Naina realises the consequences of the sale
Later that day, he again tries to stop Naina. And, in the altercation that follows, Naina tumbles into the well [which seems to be extremely muddy—it’s a wonder anybody’s stayed alive and well after drinking this water]. Everybody stands around the top of the well, screaming to everybody else to rescue Naina. Eventually, it is our hero, Ram, who comes racing along, jumps into the well, and hauls Naina out…

Ram rescues Naina from drowning
…with the result that Naina falls head over heels in love with him. She doesn’t tell him so, but the way she follows him about [rather reminiscent of a loyal puppy, and Nalini Jaywant’s huge liquid eyes add to the spaniel effect] makes it obvious.

Naina, Ram and their respective parents
Will Naina get her hero? It looks like it just needs time, and patience on Naina’s part. After all, Ram is indulgent towards her, and doesn’t mind her attention. And Naina (as the philosopher-poet describes her) is a devi. And as any avid watcher of old Hindi films will tell you, it’s the devi who gets the man.

But there are obstacles lurking in Naina’s path, not the least of them the very fact that Ram is jobless and (financially speaking) in pretty dire straits. How far will he go to change that situation? And will Naina fit into his plans?

Naina and Ram
Railway Platform is an interesting, and unabashedly socialistic, film. Unlike a lot of its more famous counterparts (especially the films of Raj Kapoor, or Do Bigha Zameen or Neecha Nagar), this one starts off seeming like just another social drama. As the film progresses, however, it changes. It takes on leftist tones, to the point where, looking at three women—Naina, Bimla, and the princess—standing together, the poet tells them: “Vidhaata ne toh tum teenon ko ek jaisa banaaya hai. Ameer-gareeb toh insaan ne banaaya hai.” (“God has made all three of you equal. Your poverty or wealth is created by man.”)

Naina, the princess, and Bimla
The passengers stranded in Andher Nagari soon become divided into two [though not mutually inimical] camps. On the one side are the poor, trying somehow to scrape through this day—or couple of days—of being forced to buy food and water from Naseeb Chand. On the other hand, also buying from Naseeb Chand, are the wealthy. To them, his thievery is irrelevant; they buy their food, and go off on a picnic.

Ram, amidst the swish set
Woven into this are other problems. For one, the corruption of Naseeb Chand.  For another, the unholy nexus between religion and business—Naseeb Chand is soon in cahoots with the local pandit, promising to donate funds for a temple if the gods will bless his enterprise. The priest, in his turn, is happy to butter up Naseeb Chand, knowing that he will eventually benefit.

Naseeb Chand gets down to puja
Then there are the more individual problems: conscience versus need (or conscience versus greed, have it as you will). Selfishness versus generosity. Love versus duty. All time-honoured problems in cinema and literature, and treated here with a (mostly) deft hand.

A lot to happen in only about 24 hours, but it does—and it makes for an entertaining just over two hours.

What I liked about this film:

The plot, which is coherent, fast-paced, and packs in a lot. The direction (by Ramesh Saigal, who also wrote the story, screenplay and dialogue for this film).  And the fact that the film manages to convey its message(s) without descending into the very depths of misery for its characters.

The songs, composed by Madan Mohan and written by Sahir Ludhianvi, are not amongst their best-known, barring possibly Basti-basti parbat-parbat gaata jaaye banjaara. But there’s the interesting parody of a Kavi Pradeep song that was cynical to start off with: Dekh tere insaan ki haalat kya ho gayi, bhagwaan becomes, under Sahir’s atheist and acid pen, Dekh tere bhagwaan ki haalat kya ho gayi, insaan. Another song that pokes fun at the establishment (and uses the setting’s unfortunately appropriate name) is Andher nagari chaupat raja.

And, it’s a refreshing change to see a hero who does go down the wrong way—and knowingly. Ram is poor, yet his education makes him different from the illiterate people who surround him. When he tries to associate with the wealthy, however, he cannot really pull it off (in the picnic scene, for example, Ram stumbles and trips over his feet several times while dancing). He is, as the poet dubs him, Trishanku, caught between one and the other, and not totally part of either. What he does to find his middle ground is reprehensible—yet understandable, and therefore more real.

Sunil Dutt in his debut role as Ram in Railway Platform
What I didn’t like:

The ‘they’ and ‘us’ in Railway Platform are a little too clear-cut. True, some of the main characters—Ram, and the princess in particular—do have some shades of grey, but the others, especially the wealthy, are all the same. All selfish, conceited, frivolous drunks who can only spend their free time dancing and singing and flirting. A sweeping generalization that I couldn’t quite swallow.

Sunil Dutt and Sheila Ramani in Railway Platform
Still, that’s a minor niggle. When considered against the rest of the film, it’s forgivable.

Note: Railway Platform is available on Youtube, here.

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33 thoughts on “Railway Platform (1955)

  1. Nice synopsis!
    “Basti-basti parbat-parbat gaata jaaye banjaara” is my favorite song since childhood days! I had a cassette which had songs and bhajans by Mohd Rafi.I particularly liked this song, but was unaware to which film it belonged. Now I come to know that it was composed by Madan Mohan :) .Nalini Jaywant seemed to get unconventional roles which gave her more scope as compared to other actresses of her time. And Johnny Walker playing a corrupt businessman! Does he get reformed?
    A must watch film! Thanks for providing the link :)

    • This actually wasn’t that unconventional a role for Nalini Jaywant (it was pretty much how Indian village women are mostly depicted in old films), but I agree with you about her taking on unusual roles – look at Shikast or Kaali Paani, for instance. Not many leading heroines would have done either of those roles, I think.

      “And Johnny Walker playing a corrupt businessman! Does he get reformed?

      Ah, you’ll have to see the film to find that out! ;-)

      But, Spoiler:

      He does, but only after he’s been soundly thrashed.

      Spoiler over.

      Do watch – it’s a good film.

    • I believe Chaand madham hai aasmaan chup hai was eventually not included in the film (or was removed, I’ve no idea). It was certainly not there in the Youtube version I watched (so I have you to thank for telling me about it! I didn’t even know it existed). And all the other Youtube videos I’ve come across are basically just the audio files merged with either a series of stills from other films, or with the picturisation of another song of similar mood (one was with Chaand phir niklaa.

      What a lovely song, though. Thank you for telling me about this, Ava.

      P.S. And do watch the film – it’s very good.

  2. You know something every time I read your posts I get hooked, thanks to your asides. I had heard about this film but had no clue what it was about, but going by your review, I think it is worth taking a look at it. While reading your review something struck me, Sunil Dutt in his debut role saves the heroine and I wondered whether that sort of set the tone for his personal life, he after all ended up saving Nargis and my father. A case of real life imitating reel life, I guess.
    Incidentally, do you know? You probably do, that Suni Dutt’s name was Balraj Dutt and he was a compere or as we call them nowadays, a radio jockey at Radio Ceylon. He took on the screen name Sunil Dutt because Balraj Sahani was already an established name in the industry when he made his debut.- Shilpi

    • “A case of real life imitating reel life, I guess

      Yes! That hadn’t struck me, but it’s true. :-)

      I knew about Sunil Dutt having been a compere for Radio Ceylon and that his real name was Balraj Dutt, but I didn’t know he changed it because of Balraj Sahni – which of course makes perfect sense. Rather like Stewart Granger, whose real name was James Stewart, but ended up having to use a stage name because the James Stewart was already an established actor in Hollywood by the time Stewart Granger began to be credited in films.

  3. I heard that time in Burma when this film was released character played by johney walker objected by community for portrating in objective taste.THe evergreen songs penned by sahir ludhyanvi saab will be lingered decades to come, still looking forward to get good picture quality dvd of film “Railway Platform”. we used to do farmaish for basti basti……….song on radio cylon programme hamenshan jawan geeton ka ranga rang programme. one of my favourite movie

  4. Saw this film on youtube last year, and thought it was well made and unusual.
    Agree with everything you’ve said about it.
    A special mention of Johny Walker. From a lovable comedian to this, he made me dislike him so much. He was sooo baaad. :-)

    >[is this India we’re talking about? I’d think 24 weeks would be a more realistic estimate].
    hehe

    andher nagri chaupat raja is my favourite childhood ‘story’. In class 4, I acted as one of the people of this nagri going to fetch water in a seive :-D Don’t remember much. (I may have already mentioned this on another post).

    A film is really good whe you don’t have anything/not much to say about the ‘What you didn’t like about the film :-)

    Thanks for the interesting review DO. Liked your take on it. :-)

    • “A special mention of Johny Walker. From a lovable comedian to this, he made me dislike him so much. He was sooo baaad. :-)

      Very true! Though, since I’d already experienced Johnny Walker as Parker in Mai Baap, this wasn’t that much of a shock to me. He was equally – if not more – bad in that. Gave me the shivers. Just shows what a fine actor he was.

      Now I have a confession to make. I hadn’t known Andher nagari chaupat raja was a story – I always thought of it as only an idiom. What’s the story all about? You must have been cute as one of the water-fetchers! :-)

      • It’s the kind of story that appears in Amar Chitra Katha :-)
        The complete saying goes;
        andher nagri chaupat raja
        take ser bhaji taki ser khaja

        The original story is about the nondiscriminatory policies f the king. On paper sounds good, no? But the fact that everything could be bought for a taka (vegetables, pearls, cloth ec) was bad for the economy and the land. Here’s a song showing this. I had posted it on Harvey’s blog as a business song. David is the Chaupat Raja and comes at the end. Looks so suitable. :-)

        • Ah, yes, Pacifist. I remember hearing this song back then when you’d posted it on Harvey’s blog. Good song!

          That’s an interesting story behind the saying. I’m doing (for my own satisfaction) a project of listing as many Hindi proverbs and idioms as I can remember, along with their meanings, and every now and then I come across one whose etymology completely eludes me. Why, for instance, Haathon ke tote ud jaana? :-)

      • It’s interesting that while the film is leftist this story actually shows the negative side of non-discrimination of policies.
        It is actually a play written around the middle/end of 19th century. There are various forms of it, and used as a satire, as a criticism of the government etc. especially when India plunged into darkness – critics used the literal meaning :-D

        The story goes on about how a mother of a thief sues a houseowner for having a weak wall. Her son tried to climb over it to get into the house to rob. The wall fell, so did the son, but the wall fell on the son and he died. The owner blamed the builder, he blamed the brickmaker, he blamed the mortar, the supplier accepted it was too thin but blamed the mixer who blamed the mullah who arrived on the scene while he was adding water and thus distracted (in order to greet him) ended up pouring more water than required. So the mulla is called who accepts his fate. He’s to be hanged. The noose is too big for his neck, and keeps slipping right down.. The size is prescribed and cannot be changed….. and so on.

      • A little explanation of what I meant by this remark;

        >It’s interesting that while the film is leftist this story actually shows the negative side of non-discrimination of policies.

        What I meant was the film was perhaps trying ta balance and so tried to show that discrimation is to be intelligently applied.

        I forget what it was about the use of this saying there.

        • I actually didn’t interpret the film as being a literal interpretation of the original play as you’ve outlined it. To me, it seemed more as if the essence of the phrase ‘Andher nagari, chaupat raja‘ was used, to show that because the raja of Andher Nagari is so money-minded and autocratic and cunning, that is reflected in his kingdom (to some extent). Ironically enough, of course, the chaos in this instance is caused largely by Naseeb Chand, who is actually just a passenger through Andher Nagari.

  5. Pacifist, I remember having to study Andher Nagri Chaupat Raja as part of our Hindi. Thanks for refreshing my memory of the play. :) I remember laughing through the class when we were doing the reading; it is only subsequent readings (when I was older) that brought home the satire in the play.

    • Sorry to hear about you and your husband’s illness. Was missing a new post. But honestly I was also concerned. :-) Wishing you both speedy recovery Anu.
      Yes. Anu. It is one of the best satires that I know of.

  6. The above comment was meant as a response to pacifist’s comment. :( Anyway…

    I’m just weakly emerging from another bout with fever; this time it attacked the spouse as well, so we lay groaning on separate couches in the living room, too sick to even watch a film. So, coming late to this review, yes, it was a good film, though young Sunil Dutt was a tad bit too earnest, I thought. :) Lovely songs…

    Laughing weakly at [is this India we’re talking about? I’d think 24 weeks would be a more realistic estimate]. (Thank heavens you didn’t have any more asides, Madhu! Even laughing hurts!)

    • Oh, poor, poor you (and Sadu). I do hope both of you are much better now. When both people are ill, it’s even worse, no? You both need pampering, and there’s nobody to give it to you…

      I agree that Sunil Dutt was a tad too earnest. Despite that, a much more impressive debut than his brother made with Man ka Meet or whatever it was, with Leena Chandavarkar and Vinod Khanna…

  7. I just love such idealistic films!!!!
    I WOULD LOVE TO WATCH IT!
    Nalini Jaywant, Sheila Ramani and Sunil Dutt look so damn beautiful!
    Some eye-candy that!
    There are rumours that this is also Dharmendra’s debut film. Did you by any chance see him anywhere there?

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