DOCUMENTARY: Film on hill rail bags UK award – Toy train documentary shows life and struggle of Darjeeling people

DOCUMENTARY: Film on hill rail bags UK award – Toy train documentary shows life and struggle of Darjeeling people – any watchers in Bengal’s power base feel the slightest twinge of conscience ?!!

Tarun Bhartiya shoots a toy train chugging through the mist - available in DVD also ?!! (Photo courtesy Tarun Bhartiya)


Siliguri, June 30: A three-episode film on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and two other mountain train services in India has bagged the award for the best “factual documentary” series conferred by the Royal Television Society in the UK.

Indian Hill Railway, produced by UK-based director Gerry Troyna, has one episode each on the DHR, Nilgiri Mountain Railway and Kalka Shimla Railway — all three recognised as world heritage sites by the Unesco.

While the DHR part was directed by Shillong-based Tarun Bhartiya, the episodes on Nilgiri and Kalka Shimla railways were created by Hugo Smith and Nick Mattingly. Both Smith and Mattingly are from the UK.

“I have done the film on the DHR, portraying several interesting characters in the Darjeeling hills. They are, someway or other, related to the hill railway,” Bhartiya told The Telegraph over the phone from Shillong today. “The toy train is used as a metaphor in the film to show the life of the Darjeeling people, their daily struggle for livelihood and aspirations.”

While elaborating on his experience while shooting the film during the Lok Sabha elections last year, Bhartiya said: “The movement for Gorkhaland has been depicted in the documentary through different characters chosen by our researchers. Not that the agitation has been mentioned in great detail but the characters’ comments show the hill people’s desire for a different identity.”

A shot of Sita Chhetri, a porter at the Darjeeling DHR station, in the documentary - complete and true reflection of core problems ?!! (Photo courtesy: Tarun Bhartiya)

Sita Chhetri, who works as a porter at the DHR station in Darjeeling, is showcased in the documentary as the quintessential Darjeeling woman, who struggles to make two ends meet.

“She is a widow and has five sons, who study in different classes. Sita is the only bread earner in the family and she desperately wants to ensure that her eldest son get admission to the best college in Darjeeling after he passes Class XII exams. But her son is not ready to continue his study and plans to take up some job to ease the burden of his mother,” said Bhartiya.

Another character viewers come across in the film is Nima Yolmo, a DHR ticket inspector in Kurseong. “Yolmo was trained to be a monk and has vast knowledge in Buddhist scriptures. But he had to take up the DHR job to support his family,” said the director.

The films also talks about the dreams of a DHR pointsman.“Despite working for several years, he still aspires to be a musician and dreams that his son will perform at a local rock band,” said Bhartiya.

It took seven months for Tarun and around 15 others in his crew to complete the film that was broadcast on BBC Four — the cultural and entertainment channel of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

“Heritage buildings and of course, the railway, are also portrayed in the documentary. I am happy that a series, in which I have some contributions, has bagged the renowned award,” said Tarun.

Speaking about Troyna, Tarun said he was a well-known face in the BBC and had made several films on Indian Railways.

Great Railway Journeys, a six-episode film on train travel from Mumbai to south India by Troyna in the eighties, had been nominated for the Bafta (British Academy of Film and Television Arts)’s best documentary series. He has also produced other documentaries titled Bombay Railway, Monsoon Railway and Indian Hospital Train-The Lifeline Express.

The award, Tarun said, had been presented at a function held at Leeds in Yorkshire, UK, on June 14. The Royal Television Society offers training in journalism and documentary production and is a forum for discussion and debate on different aspects of television community.

“As far as I understand, the film has been received well when BBC broadcast it in the UK. In the hills, it was shown by local cable operators and people watched it with great interest.”


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