Trains have always been an intimate part of cinema. One still remembers Durga and her kid brother watching a train in wide-eyed wonder as it chugged along their village in Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali. Years later, Mani Ratnam would use the train in his Alaipayuthey playing Cupid to his young lovers, portrayed by Madhavan and Shalini. And David Lean’s Brief Encounter in 1945 had Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson as lovers in a train station, and the black-and-white film unrolled against the hooting and hissing of steam engines and the clanging of bogies.
Tamil director Prabhu Solomon hopes to capture the great romance of the railroad in his forthcoming Dhanush-starrer, Thodari. Routinely working with small actors – at least after King with Vikram in the lead bombed at the box-office a decade ago – Solomon has gone in once again for a well-known face. He has been saying that Dhanush fits the bill of an unassuming man who has the ability to slip into a character.
In Thodari, Dhanush essays a pantry boy, Poochi Appan, one of the dozen such men who are to be seen in most trains, and his love interest will be Keerthy Suresh as Saroja. Despite a vertigo problem, Dhanush was game to run on the top of railways coaches, even sing and dance. Keerthy was as gutsy, acting close to the engine that was terribly hot and speeding at 70 km an hour!
Thodari literally grew out of Solomon’s long train journeys between Chennai and New Delhi. He was then working at Ghaziabad, and the ever-so often two nights on tracks rocked his imagination. His conversations with pantry boys, fellow-travellers and all those in the endless number of stations the train stopped enriched his thought process and strengthened his resolve to set an entire movie in a train. Recently, a good part of Chennai Express had unfolded on a train with Deepika Padukone and Shahrukh Khan playing hard to get with each other. But Thodari will be different. Presumably so.
Solomon told this writer on Thursday that although the story had been plotted on a single train and on a single journey, “we could not possibly get permission for that sort of a thing. So we used different trains on routes between Goa and Hubli, between Vishakapatnam and a point in Odisha and in a place near Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu”.
A September first week release has been planned for Thodari.