Bad travel-writing, good movies.
Today we follow the adventures and misadventures of several travelers to exotic Darjeeling.
Still one of the most sought-after tea export regions of the world, it was once the cream-of-the-crop of British hill-stations. Of course the tea stayed on, and the British didn't. Many famous lovers have crooned and "waadaa kiya'd" here . . . the beauty of the hill plantations serving as a deceptive backdrop to eventual tragedy. Perhaps the most famous tragedy of all is that of Vandhana . . . a bright girl with a literary bent who might have had a future . . . had she just chosen a seat on the other side of the toy train that day.
|Vandhana, history's poster-girl for how NOT to travel in Darjeeling.|
But not everyone comes to this place of beauty with love blooming in their heart. A flame draws all sorts of insects . . . some with a venomous nature.
1. Raj (Vinod Khanna) is a police inspector. Like many inspectors before him, he is on a vengeful personal mission . . . to find Shankar, the criminal who caused his father's death. Like many Raj's after him, he is also prone to (A) stalking, and (B) unpredictable manic episodes.
He believes the criminal is here, hiding out in the bosom of the Queen of hills.
And indeed, Raj is correct.
2. Shankar (Ranjeet) of course, will not be caught dead, old, or bored without a bosom nearby, preferably several. Since he first escaped policewallah clutches many years earlier, he has been hiding out (as an unwelcome guest) in the luxurious home of two unfortunate females. It's been a long twenty years, trying to suss out the location of the stolen loot. Sucking the tea plantation owners dry has been hard work, and Shankar has the silver locks to prove it.
3. Roma (Shabana Azmi) isn't a traveler to Darjeeling, but a memsaab, born and bred. She is the young owner of the tea plantation Shankar is currently exploiting.
Meanwhile, in the background, lurk an ambiguous pair of survivors. Tall waif is Suraj (Danny Dezongpa), newly arrived from Hong Kong with a mission to (A) make paisa as a payrolled diver for Shankar, and (B) find the Indian father that disappeared in his childhood. Small waif is a pickpocket and declined to provide her name to the press.
He's got the muscle and she's got the brains, and a fond partnership is soon struck up.
But music helps. And in Darjeeling, damsels in distress WILL be serenaded, whether they like it or not.
It takes a while to get around to all the hot spots in Darjeeling. Raj and Shankar both do their best to see everything, however.
[Prema Narayan: bombshell extraordinaire. Known for: Her excellent chemistry with inanimate objects.]
It is a well documented fact that one can't throw a stone in India without hitting a pair of separated brothers. And if there is one cultural phenomenon more common than separated brothers, it is the tendency for such close relations to currently be living within a stone's throw of another, bilkul ignorant of their blood ties. It also doesn't help when both fellers fall for the same lady.
In keeping with Darjeeling's hostility toward the extended happiness of lovers or blood kin, a side jaunt to Hong Kong is the only answer to Raj's broader questions about his father's past.
Awkward explanations of why he is the spitting image of his dead father . . . to his dead father's abandoned mistress, Suzy (Helen) . . . ensure that Raj will need to return to the [healing] hills again. After leaving Suzy in the capable hands of her rival, his mother, of course. [Post script: It it is only a matter of time before Suzy ends up in Darjeeling herself, where she and Vandhana find one another in the "My husband's son grew up to be his doppelganger and now everything is weird" support group and become great friends. In fact, this club has become so popular, it has expanded to include male members and recently opened branches in several other major Indian vacation destinations.]
It is beyond our scope to finish OTHER peoples' stories for them. Travel is about YOUR story.
That said, it is obvious that the curtain will fall on this particular tale when Raj and Suraj finally work out their antipathy and settle ancient family scores. Cause the ladies already had it figured out long ago; Darjeeling running in their veins and all.
Their advice for the future traveler?
1. Always dress in layers.
2. Look both ways before you cross the street (potential admirers are an ever present threat).
3. If you want to impress an older man, pick his pocket.
4. If anyone asks you to marry them in a deserted cave shrine, laugh it off and schedule your shaadi at least a few weeks out.
5. If you choose to wear an orange or peach towel during a serenade, you had better be coming out of the shower, not a sexy rainstorm.
6. And lastly, if you are going to sit around a romantic fire with your potential admirer, continue to dress in layers. And by all that is sacred, do NOT walk around that fire. Keep to separate corners and remain sullen. Your future happiness depends on your petulance and your mastery of temporary prudery.
In short, this: