Dir. Ravee Nagaich
Notwithstanding a fairly unremarkble (if not downright dumb) plot and a star I do not especially like, The Train is a terrifically fun mystery-suspense sort of movie that more than makes up in style what it lacks in other elements. In both visual sensibility and story-framing, it is almost as good as a Vijay Anand gem. And even though Rajesh Khanna is in nearly every scene, he somehow restrains the froggy, droopy-eyed mumbling that makes him so doughy and unpleasant in certain other films.
One of the many pleasures of The Train is its abundance of Helen, who not only gets two songs but plays a substantial role as well, as Lily, the gangster's moll who is also in love with our hero, Inspector Shyam (Khanna). In a noteworthy detail, Lily is a former college classmate of Shyam; it is not so common for a vamp to have an education. But if you have ever seen a movie in which Helen plays a character, Lily's ultimate fate won't surprise you. It occurs to me to advise Hindi film characters that if they want to survive to the film's end, they should not be played by Helen.
Like a Vijay Anand film, The Train motors along at a fairly engaging pace. This is partly because it foregoes the development of a romance. At the film's opening. Shyam and Neeta (Nanda) are already seriously involved. This is a smart move, as it trims the story, keeping the focus mostly on the crimes and the intrigue. But it is clever, too, in that it raises the stakes; when the romance goes wrong, there is a sense of a deep relationship in jeopardy, not the cheap fluff of a love-at-first-sight infatuation that just began a few minutes ago.
And so The Train remains gripping, even as the story grows a little stupid. Neeta and Shyam are on the rocks because Shyam, ever the upstanding police inspector, turned in Neeta's father when he escaped from prison after being accused (falsely, Neeta insists) of murder. Meanwhile Shyam is on the trail of some murderous jewel thieves led by "Number 1" (Madan Puri). The cartel operates a hotel where Neeta has taken a job, and where Lily dances, when she is not trying to seduce Shyam. Soon Shyam is saddled with a buffoonish witness, Pyarelal (Rajendranath), who has been conned by a member of the gang - a woman who looks a whole lot like Neeta. Shyam must endure traveling around with Pyarelal for while, tracking this mysterious woman from city to city on the Calcutta Express (the titular train), so that Pyarelal can identify her.
In another clever pacing maneuver, the obligatory comic side plot of movies of this era is absorbed into the main story in the form of Pyarelal, who is doofusy but good-hearted. Pyarelal is more than a little stupid; he surely tries Shyam's patience, though Shyam maintains a facade of equanimity. But I do love Rajendranath, big lovable teddy bear that he is. He projects the most delightful, guileless sweetness. And since he is part of the story, his goofy antics do not anchor the motion of the film the way comic side-plot characters so often do.
The Train makes use of some interesting visual metaphors as well, mostly through several rapid-cut sequences. One such intercut sequence of images conveys a sort of dream-state version of Shyam and Neeta's romance; it seems like the beginning of a song picturization. But it ends abrubptly with an overhead shot of the two of them, reclining in a patch of grass among a flurry of falling flower petals, as Shyam dreamily asks, "kya yeh asli hai, ya sapna?" The clever sequence invites us into Shyam's sleepy, love-warmed state of mind. Detailed bits of craft like this help to elevate The Train above its pulpy plot, to something beyond mere timepass, making it a memorable, stylish piece of cinema.