The Indian Towering Inferno

Indian filmmakers have been taking inspiration from Hollywood flicks but very few such filmmakers openly admit it. Director Ravi Chopra (son of the legendary film director – Late B.R. Chopra) saw a Hollywood movie – The Towering Inferno (1974) and got inspiration for making an Indian movie. He openly admitted this fact also. The Towering Inferno was based on the plot of the fire in a building whereas Ravi Chopra decided to make a movie on an incident of burning of a running train. And he made a brilliant movie whose climax (the train on fire) is simply mesmerizing and by inserting all the regular Bollywood formulae according to the taste of the (Indian) public, he finally served a Masaala flick to the Hindi movie audience. The movie did not succeed commercially, nevertheless it’s a memorable movie and proves that the Indians have never been any less in the technical field than the Hollywood filmmakers. Talented Indians have always been able to make technically superb action-thrill movies matching the Hollywood stuff. The Burning Train (1980) proves it and the fact that it was produced many decades back, makes the effort behind this movie all the more laudable.

The Burning Train is the story of three childhood buddies – Ashok (Dharmendra), Vinod (Vinod Khanna) and Randhir (Danny Denjongpa). Vinod and Randhir were at loggerheads even in their childhood and the rivalry continues even after their growing-up and becoming employees of the Indian Railways. Ashok has been in love with Seema (Hema Malini) but gets heartbroken when she leaves him due to his losing his wealth and becoming poor and vanishes from his life. Vinod marries the love of his life – Sheetal (Parveen Babi) and gets a kid but his family life is not pleasant because he is not able to give sufficient time to his family due to extreme busyness. Randhir’s jealousy towards Vinod has not only been carried over since their childhood but it has deepened in adulthood due to Randhir’s losing out to Vinod for Sheetal’s love also.

Why Vinod is not able to devote time towards his family ? Because he has been relentlessly working upon his dream project of making a magnificent train for the Indian Railways. The train is all set for its inaugural run from Delhi to Mumbai when Sheetal finally leaves Vinod’s house and highly sad Vinod moves to the control room of the train to take care of the technicalities, sending his friend and colleague Rakesh (Vinod Mehra) to Mumbai by flight to welcome the train there upon arrival. Ashok and Randhir are also on the train due to different reasons. There are different kinds of passengers on the train including a small time thief – Ravi (Jeetendra) and a young girl – Madhu (Neetu Singh) who is escaping from a marriage being forced on her by her family.

The drama gets a boost when Ashok comes across Seema in the train and to avoid her, gets down from the train in the middle of the journey only to find Randhir in a bar who tells him that he has kept a time bomb in the engine of the train to sabotage the train and taint the repute of Vinod. Now starts the tussle between the baddie and the heroes to save the train which is set on fire after the explosion and with its brakes also failing, is going to meet its disaster and the death of all of its passengers. The prolonged and thrilling climax leads to the happy ending of the movie.

The movie has all kinds of regular Bollywood formulae entertaining the typical Indian movie buffs but its essence is the climax which justifies its title. The climax is pretty long and sensational. It’s technically superb and contains several twists and turns, making the final part of the story of the movie a see-saw. It’s full of not only action and thrill but also sentiments and music. It contains certain tear-jerking scenes too. Several character artists have got ample opportunity to leave their mark in the final sequence of events.Though Ravi Chopra had got the inspiration for making this movie from The Towering Inferno, by default perhaps, it gives glimpses of the Titanic mishap also (the Hollywood movie – Titanic (1997) was made much later than this movie) in which the inaugural journey of the ship fails and that journey contains all kinds of RASAs of literature – romance, sentiments, humour, action, thrill; just everything. This way, similarities can easily be seen between The Burning Train and Titanic.The music of R.D. Burman is not great but not bad either. The songs appear good to ears when listened to during the movie. However the Qawwaali – Pal Do Pal Ka Saath Hamaara Pal Do Pal Ke Yaarane Hain is a memorable one both in terms of the lyrics and the melody and also the picturization.Technically, the movie is just superb and all the relevant aspects are quite in order. It’s not unduly long also and the length is in line with the trend prevailing in Bollywood during the seventies and the eighties.

The Burning Train boasts of a great star cast, viz. Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Vinod Khanna, Parveen Babi, Jeetendra, Neetu Singh, Vinod Mehra, Danny Dengjongpa, Simi Grewal, Asha Sachdev, Romesh Sharma, Padmini Kapila etc. I give full marks to director Ravi Chopra that he did justice to all the characters and allowed every one of them to leave his / her mark in the story. All of them have done pretty well though the footage awarded to them varies from character to character.

All in all, it’s a highly entertaining movie with technical excellence which I unconditionally recommend to movie buffs of all categories. I wonder why this movie was commercially unsuccessful despite all the necessary ingredients of success. Perhaps it was ahead of its time. Indian audience did not like such movies those days. However now the taste of the Indian audience has changed a lot and I believe, if B.R. Films decides to re-release it, it will get the love and appreciation of the Indian audience.

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About Jitendra Mathur

A Chartered Accountant with literary passion and a fondness for fine arts
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4 Responses to The Indian Towering Inferno

  1. Mit says:

    Made me nostalgic. Old home and TV. I was just a kid and I remember myself getting scared while watching this.

  2. Nice blog. Enjoyed the read.

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