Locomotive 38 movies

My English curriculum in school was usually a collection of short stories. And what stories some of them were! Abridged prose versions of classics like The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Greek mythology and what not. Stories like A table is a table, about an old man who decides to switch around the names of various objects he encounters (to counter boredom, I think) and slowly withdraws from society simply because he can only speak his own language in the end. Ray Bradbury’s Fog Horn, possibly the saddest short story I have ever read. This entertaining one about a smuggler named Chris Selby who tries to cross the border with two thousand Swiss watches placed in a false floor in his car, only to come undone when he finds that some moron wound them all up and their combined synchronous ticking made quite a racket at the border checkpost. I could go on.

Some of them have become shortcuts for me and my friends to refer to certain experiences. When we discuss language and jargon, A table is a table comes up. When we discuss loneliness, Fog Horn comes up.

It is in this spirit that I propose to name a certain sub-genre of movies as “Locomotive 38 movies”.

Locomotive 38, the Ojibway is a short story by William  Saroyan. I think I encountered it in my ninth grade textbook. It is about an American teenager called Aram who is befriended by a native American who comes to his small town and asks for his help in buying a car and driving him around. The stated reason being that he does not know how to drive. So the teenager becomes the man’s chauffeur during the summer, and they strike up a sort of friendship. The man’s name in his native tongue translates, it seems, to Locomotive 38. At the end of the summer, Locomotive suddenly disappears, and when Aram enquires about town, he learns that the man drive off in his car. The story ends with the following lines:

He was just a young man who’d come to town on a donkey, bored to death or something, who’d taken advantage of the chance to be entertained by a small-town kid who was bored to death, too. That’s the only way I could figure it out without accepting the general theory that he was crazy.

Every once in a while, I come across a movie that is so bad that I refuse to believe it could’ve been made with a straight face. Like Dharmesh Darshan’s Mela, a movie of such wretched, overblown masala excess starring Aamir Khan, his brother Faisal and Twinkle Khanna. It was supposed to be a riff on Sholay, I think. In terms of cinematic quality, it rates alongside Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag. However, I am almost convinced that Dharmesh Darshan made it as a spoof of Sholay. to quote William Saroyan, “that’s the only way I could figure it out without accepting the general theory that he was crazy.”

I am sure you, dear reader, can think of a few like that. So come forth and tell me.

Oh, and henceforth, if you see me use the tag “Locomotive 38” in a movie review post, you know what to expect.


13 thoughts on “Locomotive 38 movies

  1. Ranya says:

    Hmm.. right now can only think of Amar Akbar Anthony (since I just watched it yesterday). It has such an overdose of masala, I suspect Manmohan Desai sat down one day and thought, What makes India, India & how can I incorporate all of those elements in an overtly commercial movie.. that will be lurvvveed by the masses, as well as some critics can comment on the symbolism? And voila, the Triple A was born!!

  2. Shalu says:

    Fog Horn remains to this day the saddest story I have ever read. To be so alone in this world..
    I also remember the story about the guy whose specs were broken by the servant. He punishes him by not scolding him or talking to him about it. Do you remember that one? Or, the one (I think by Kushwant Singh but I might be wrong on the author) where a school boy kneels before a deadly cobra to pray to it and gets bitten and dies? I remember reading that story the first time and thinking that some miracle was going to happen at the end and was rudely surprised by the practical ending. I had to reread the story to make sure that I was reading it correct. And, then the realization that life is like that..If I had known then what I know now, it would have been classified as a classic “Darwin award”!
    Anyway, keep writing. I love to read your posts.

  3. Shalu,

    The one about the glasses was called Without Glasses — I don’t remember too much else about that story, though.

    I remember the “Darwin Award” story, as you so wonderfully put it, but cannot for the life of me remember its title. I think it’s the servant who gets bitten, though. His name is Ganga Ram. The kids find the cobra, beat it half to death and put it inside a can. The servant kneels to pray before it when he opens the can but the snake is too pissed to stop for piety at that point.

    The Khushwant Singh story was about his grandmother, wasn’t it? I may be wrong, though.


  4. Ranya,

    I actually love AAA 🙂 It does have a plot that is a masterpiece of contrivance, but that much zaniness was pretty much par for the course back then. But you may be right about it being one of the most calculated ventures of all time. It’s as if they had a checklist of things to do in a masala movie and crossed it all off in a three hour time span.


  5. SG says:

    Hi there

    Came across your blog while searching for the short story Locomotive 38 for my son to read.

    Looks like we studied the same curriculum and remember the same short stories – the only one I didnt find on your list was the Village Cricket Match.

    Your post took me back nearly 3 decades to my school days. Thanks.

  6. I read the same story in school. Landed up at your blog searching for it!

    Liked your description of the movies – hah hah!

    Let me add “Bewafaa” featuring the “amazing” chemistry between Manoj Vajpayee and Shamita Shetty here as a potential candidate for a locomotive 38 movie. And also, “Janta Ki Adalat” of Mithun Chakraborty and Madhoo. You can read about my experience with this movie on my blog!

  7. SG>> Didn’t have Village Cricket Match in my curriculum, I’m afraid. Maybe the syllabus changed since after you finished school. Anyway, I’m glad to have evoked some good memories 🙂

    Ankur>> I’m not entirely sure that Bewafaa was intentionally bad 😀 As for Mithun’s innumerable potboilers, they’re intentional all right.

    There was a phase when I watched a number of those movies (and probably this one as well) at a local theatre in Pilani. Tickets were priced at 4 bucks, and the movies were total paisa vasool at that price 😀 I should write a post on that phase sometime.

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