Documentary on Hill railways of India bags UK award

A documentary series on the hill railways in India has won the prestigious Royal Television Society Award of the United Kingdom early this week. The three-part series —shown by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC)— is based on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the Niligiri Mountain Railway and the Kalka Shimla Railway. All the three hill railways are the UNESCO world heritage sites.

Of the three films, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was directed by Tarun Bhartiya, a Shillong-based Indian director with an all Indian crew. The other two films, Kalka Shimla Railway and Nilgiri Mountain Railway, were directed by Hugo Smith and Nick Mattingly.

“The hil railways is a metaphor of life in India. The railways are unique in their own way. They flourished during the British Raj and are still running brilliantly. There are so many folk songs based on these trains. Also, the film was shot against the backdrop of the 2009 elections and Gorkhaland agitation,” says Bhartiya. “Culture of the people here is so different than those from the plains,” says Gerry Troyna, the producer of the film.

The film got overwhelming response in UK. “The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway has a character called Sita Chetri who is a porter and climbs the hill to make a living for her family of five. A widow, she wants her eldest son to study in the best college in Darjeeling, but the lack of fund makes it difficult. After watching the film, we got several mails from people willing to help her,” adds Troyna.

Troyna has made several films on the Indian Railways. His six-part series on the Great Railway Journeys in the 1980s included his journey from Mumbai to South India. The series got BAFTA nomination for best documentary series. He also won accolades for his series on documentary on the Bombay Railway, Monsoon Railway and Indian Hospital Train-The Lifeline Express.

Constructed by the British for their luxury, these hill railways have now became a lifeline for people in the hills.