The Nilgiri Mountain Railway in Popular Culture

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway has had a slot of reel-time that you probably didn’t know about.

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) is a well known tourist attraction in Ooty. After 45 years of planning and labor, the railway was set up in Ooty in 1899, during the course of the colonial rule in India. Colonial India was all about novelties, and this railway is definitely one of them. The landscape of the Nilgiris definitely makes for a stunning view, as one travels through Metupalaiyam to Udhagamandalam a.k.a Ooty.

The novelty of the NMR makes it something of fascination for enthusiastic travelers. Its widespread usage during the British Raj is also probably what made the idea of a Toy Train stick to the fabric of Ooty’s heritage-worthy material culture. The railway line has earned several features in popular culture owing to its novelty status.

BBC, in 2010, released a series of documentaries covering the several expansive railway networks in India, featuring the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. The film was directed by Tarun Bhartiya, Hugo Smith and Nick Mattingly.

A still from popular film Barfi
A still from popular film Barfi

Several Indian films feature the various vantage points on the Nilgiri Mountain Rail. Coonoor station is featured in David Lean’s ‘A Passage to India’, which is set in the colonial era of India’s cultural identity, and throws light on several aspects of such regime within India.

Wellington station forms a part of the setting in several Bollywood films, and the NMR forms a part of movies such as Mera Naam Joker and, Dil Se, in which the popular song Chaiyya Chaiyya was shot at the pinnacle of the NMR structure. The railway track of the NMR featured in the film Barfi when Ranbir Kapoor takes Priyanka Chopra for a ride on a cart.

Malaika Chopra and Shahrukh Khan dancing on top of the Nilgiri Mountain Track
Malaika Chopra and Shahrukh Khan dancing on top of the Nilgiri Mountain Track

If you remember the 1983 film Sadma, starring Sridevi and Kamal Haasan, also featured the Ketti Station of the NMR where the last scene of the film was shot.

Several Tamil and South Indian films also star the NMR.

The space that Ooty occupies is made novelty owing to its climate as well as rich greenery. The spatial factors affect the way people perceive the culture of Ooty and all that it has to offer.

A still from 1983 film Sadma
A still from 1983 film Sadma

Apart from being an important part of the fabric of Ooty’s heritage, the NMR is an absolute novelty for tourists and travelers, who visit the area in order to experience the cooler temperatures and the picturesque topography, which differs vastly from the more Tropical parts of India.

Ooty is definitely a portal into another peaceful realm, away from the hustle bustle of the Indian metropolitan city, and heritage such as the Nilgiri Mountain Rail are what make it a feature in several elements of Indian representations of popular culture and landscape. Ooty’s rich cultural diversity and exotic landscape make it a treasure trove of cultural heritage as well as intangible culture within India.

In fact, archaeologists and those who deal in the preservation of heritage have been documenting and working within the tunnels of the NMR in the past decade, in order to keep it in a sturdy and efficient state for regular use.

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