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How the Punjab Mail and Deccan Queen became film stars

Some classic older films featured two of India’s oldest and best known train services.

Sonal Pandya

Fearless Nadia, née Mary Evans, made her name as the queen of action films with a string of hits from Wadia Movietone in the 1930s and 1940s. Her stunt films usually involved an action sequence where Nadia, dressed as a masked avenger, took on a gang of ruffians. Some of her more popular films like Miss Frontier Mail (1936) and Punjab Mail (1939) set the melee on or atop a speeding train, increasing the stakes for both the actress and the viewers.

The aforementioned train, Punjab Mail, was the fastest train in the days of the British Raj. It began its journey 104 years ago on 1 June 1912, making its journey from Bombay's Ballard Pier Mole station to Peshawar. The train has evolved from a service meant for the upper classes and Europeans to one meant for everybody. Today, the Punjab Mail runs daily from Mumbai to Ferozpur.

In Punjab Mail (1939), Nadia turned herself from Princess Nirmala into ‘Miss Punjab Mail’ to protect herself and her young brother against unscrupulous forces. The film was the sixth in the series of Diamond Thriller by the Wadia banner.

In Nanubhai Vakil’s Miss Punjab Mail (1958), another young woman Rupa had to assume the identity of ‘Miss Punjab Mail’ to safeguard her kingdom against the rule of an evil prime minister. Incidentally, the film’s screenwriter was Kaifi Azmi, an early script of his before he turned to songwriting.

Another rail service, the Deccan Queen, turned 86 today. The train running daily from Mumbai to Pune originally began as a weekend service between the two cities.

Another studio, Sagar Movietone, produced Deccan Queen (1936) as a stunt film to rival the thrillers produced by Wadia Movietone. Starring Surendra (in his first film) and directed by Mehboob Khan, Deccan Queen featured Aruna Devi in a spirited double role as the ordinary typist Vrinda and her alter-ego Deccan Queen who teaches conmen a lesson.

An additional film made on the railway service was Deccan Queen (1962) directed by Akkoo. The film's cast included Sheela Kashmiri, Samar Roy, Jeet Bala and Habib.