Sunday, June 14, 2009

Nice caboose: The Train (India, 1970)

Due to time constraints, I have to be a bit more choosy these days about which films I review and which I don't. So, as much as I enjoyed the Bollywood thriller The Train, I'm just going to take the lazy route and link to Memsaab's fine review of the film, as well as provide you with a clip that includes "Meri Jaan Maine Kaha" -- not only one of my favorite Bollywood songs of the seventies, but also one of my favorite dance numbers featuring Helen. (Be patient: The song starts at about 1:15.)

If you want proof that R.D. Burman was a fucking genius, I don't think you need look any further than "Meri Jaan Maine Kaha". It's a head-spinning masterpiece of cartoon futurism, sounding like a cross between the Munsters theme and "Eep Opp Ork Ah-ah" from The Jetsons sung in part by a scat-singing Hindi version of Louis Armstrong. (I believe that's R.D. himself singing, although in the movie it's lip-synched by a little guy who looks like the love child of Prince and Bollywood funnyman Jagdeep.)

Watching The Train provided a perfect antidote to my recent viewing of James Ivory's vile documentary Helen: Queen of the Nautch Girls. Ivory's viewpoint seemed to be that no Westerner -- or, for that matter, no Indian with a proper (i.e. Westernized) education -- could possibly fathom Helen's appeal. But watching her in The Train it's hard for me to imagine anyone not finding her appealing.

By the way, Ivory also seemed to think that Helen was a disgusting fat cow whose full figure positioned her as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for India's undernourished rabble. This only conjured in my mind the image of a bunch of hungry Indian people watching Helen on screen and all simultaneously imagining her turning into a giant roast turkey with Helen's face on it, just like desert island castaways in an old Daffy Duck cartoon.


Mister Naidu said...

I agree. Meri Jaan Maine Kaha is a great song and one of Helen's best dances. RD Burman also used that Louis Armstrong-style voice to great effect in Duniya Mein Logon Ko from Apna Desh. Helen's second song from The Train is another gem - Maine Dil Abhi Diya Nahin.

Ivory's Queen of the Nautch Girls is worth watching only for Helen's dances and behind the scenes footage. I usually keep my finger on the mute button for the pompous voice-over commentary.

Todd said...

Right? The paternalistic condescension in that v/o is -- to borrow a phrase from Patton Oswalt -- so thick and rich that you could drizzle it over pancakes. It's as if the movie was narrated by Paul Blackthorne's character from Lagaan.

Didn't Burman also do that vocal on the theme from The Burning Train? It sure sounds like him.

memsaab said...

Experts all agree that the Merchant-Ivory documentary is patronizing :) (truthfully I find most of their films that way---or at least terribly dull---as well).

Glad you liked The Train, it's really a lot of fun. RD does that scat-singing throughout the whole background soundtrack too, which is just FAB. I'm dying to know who the Prince/Jagdeep love child is though (and excellent description of him BTW). If you find out do let me know!

Anonymous said...

Helen a disgusting fat cow? C'mon, she's totally fit. Sounds like James Ivory was a little threatened by Helen's unbridled sensuality.

BTW, I love the blue and red noir lighting and the way that the suspense storyline is cut in with Helen's number in that clip.

Todd said...

Well, I may have paraphrased a bit by saying "disgusting fat cow", but that, to my mind, was the spirit of it. And, yes, I think you're right. Also, I agree with you about the clip: It's not only a great song picturization, but also gives you a good sense of the feel of the film overall.

Memsaab: Agreed. To me, Merchant-Ivory has always been a brand name that spelled nap time.

Mister Naidu said...

yeah Todd, Burning Train is a great song and vocal by RD. Another one worth checking out is Are Dil Se Dil Mile from Bulundi. Its on youtube.

sunil said...

Merchant-ivory DID give the delightful Naseeruddin Shah/Amjad Khan starrer "Perfect Murder". That's the only movie of theirs I have seen, but anyone capable of translating HRF Keating's quirky charms of Inspector Ghote onto celluloid gets my thumbs up.