There have been times when cinema has used non-humans as characters. Birds, animals, cars and even trains have all played key roles in films.
Kannan’s Oru Oorla Rendu Raja (Two Kings In One Country) in Tamil – to soon go on the floors – will have a train as one of its characters. The director has hired a platform in Mayiladuthurai (earlier known as Mayavaram) railway station and a train for his movie.
Kannan said the train would be a “character”.
Of course, this will not be the first time that a film is going to have a non-human essaying a character. One of India’s most renowned auteurs, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, once said that a movie “is not just an actor’s performance. He is only one of the several elements…I take care to include animals or birds or even insects in my films. Man becomes truly complete only with the interplay of life forms around him, including plants and trees. This is what makes him one with Nature”.
True to this, “the street cat that strolls on the roof in Swayamvaram (One’s Own Choice), the naughty tuskers, and the black cow that chases Sankarankutty out of the shop veranda into lashing rain in Kodiyettam (The Ascent), different kinds of dogs and the hen that lays eggs in the attic in Anantaram (Monologue), the cranes, the crows, parrots, mynahs and a host of other birds, and the fish in the temple pond in Vidheyan (The Servile) are a few of these non-human actors which have made my movies richer with their presence and histrionics”.
Even more incredible was Adoor’s decision to make a palm tree a character in Nizhalkkuthu (Shadow Kill), set in pre-independence India and during Gandhi’s Quit India Movement. It talks about a hangman in the princely State of Travancore (now part of Kerala) and his guilt-ridden existence.
There have been many others in Indian cinema who have used non-humans with great effect. Elephants and dogs have essayed major roles. The stone figures of gods and goddesses have replicated men and women with heroes and heroines talking to them, complaining to them – as if they were human beings.
Trains have been great leitmotifs in cinema – and they have been wonderful Cupids. Remember that song in Professor with Shammi Kapoor and Kalpana jumping in and out of the slow moving toy train as it chugs through the Ghoom Loop, near Darjeeling (Mein chali, mein chali…). Remember Rajesh Khanna in a Jeep with Sharmila Tagore in a train in Aradhana with the evergreen number, Mere sapno ki rani…. And some of you will certainly have not forgotten one of Mani Ratnam’s best works, Alaipayuthey (Waves, which was remade in Hindi as Saathiya with Rani Mukherjee and Vivek Oberoi) starring Madhavan and Shalini. Here the train acts as Cupid.
So, the train in Kannan’s Oru Oorla Rendu Raja may well be an engaging part of the narrative.
And trains have, since time immemorial, been so romantic. They have helped men and women meet, helped them to begin a love story. Nobody can forget David Lean’s great classic, Brief Encounter – where Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson fall in love in a rail station with the story playing out against the whistle of the engines and the clanging sound of the bogies till the affair disappears in the smoke of the locomotives.
Sometimes, an estranged man-woman relationship is repaired in a train station as we saw in Kora Kagaz with Vijay Anand and Jaya Bahaduri romantically reconciling with each other in a waiting room.
So, it will be interesting to see how Kannan will use the train to weave his tale of two kings in (maybe) one train.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran wrote Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s full-fledged biography in 2010)