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Reel journey to JNU fest via Lohardaga

Ranchi, April 8: When Cinemala, the international film festival of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), begins at New Delhi on April 12, there will be strains of Jharkhand’s music.

Gadi Lohardaga Mail, directed by local lads Meghnath and Biju Toppo, would open the JNU film festival. Prakash Ray of the JNU students’ union recently informed the duo about the decision.

The film is an interesting documentation of many people’s memories of the narrow-gauge train that ran between Ranchi and Lohardaga — a journey of yesteryear’s that’s now a part of the local history.

Ranchi was brought on the Indian railway map with the opening of the Purulia-Ranchi narrow-gauge line in November 1907. This line was extended up to Lohardaga in 1911. A narrow gauge train ran on the track till January 2004, when it was withdrawn, as conversion of the section into a broad-gauge one began.

Realising that train journeys would never be the same again on the route, Meghnath and Biju Toppo thought of documenting it’s final journey. And a group of prominent personalities, singers and filmmakers from the region, such as Mukund Naik, Ram Dayal Munda, Madhu Mansuri “Hansmukh”, Aswini Pankaj and Punam Kerketta, joined the two.

The film is an emotional journey of the travellers reminiscing about the train and memories associated with it. And songs play a major role in the narrative.

Through Nagpuri songs, the personalities on the train brings forth the angst of the one leaving their beloved, their homes, their families and their roots, perhaps for ever. These were songs that were sung in those days when the train became popular, especially among those leaving for the Assam tea gardens. A journey that became a part of the region’s history.

Mukund Naik, Ram Dayal Munda and Madhu Mansuri are the principal singers in the film. Munda also plays his flute.

It is the lyrics and the music that makes this film all the more special. One of Mansuri’s songs is a detailed description of Chhotanagpur, “rich” due to its “nadi-nala, taka-tuku, ban aur patera, Bharal khonpa kashi phool, dinda samay jhulajhul (rivers and streams, undulating forests and grooves, Kashi flowers, added to the hair of a maiden, swinging back and forth).

The song also mentions a passenger train. “Chal re chal dangara chal /khel re khel ghishri khel / bina engine bina tel /gadi Lohardaga mail (Lets go to the hillock /To play the sliding game / with no engine no fuel / runs Lohardaga Mail) — thus the film’s name.

This interesting piece was shot on three days, where Biju handled cameras while the editing was done by B. Ajit. Though shot in December 2003, it could not be finished until late last year due to logistical problems, Biju added.

JNU is not the only festival to which this particular film has been included. Gadi Lohardaga Mail was also included in the Gaya film festival, besides two others at Gorakhpur and Allahabad last month. New Delhi film club called Weekend Film Club chose this film for their maiden screening. Also, Anand Patwardhan, documentary filmmaker, selected this film for Bikalp package to be screened at Prithvi Theatre at Mumbai. While Chitrabani of Calcutta shortlisted Lohardaga Mail for a screening at Nandan.

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