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.