More than 150 years ago, Asia’s first train journey began quietly at Bori Bunder station in Mumbai on land claimed from the sea. That station has become the much feted heritage site Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. The financial capital has undergone a sea change in its architectural landscape, but the original structure has stayed the same.
Subuhi Jiwani’s 20-minute documentary takes a trip through the interiors of the railway station that sees over 1,500 trains and six lakh passengers each day. Terminus: Stories of CST, produced by Sahapedia and Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation, also chronicles the stories of some of the 5,000 employees who keep the Central Railway network ticking. Jiwani follows the conventional documentary format and uses a concise voiceover of the site’s long and fascinating history. A wealth of archival footage is used to bolster the narrative.
Jiwani interviews a range of people to ensure that her film is not “only the story of steel and stone”. Chief Controller Ravi Gaikwad offers a fascinating fact: 330 people are required to start a single train. India’s first diesel engine women driver Mumtaz Kazi begins her journey from CST and prays for every train in the world on each ride. Apart from the officials, the documentary also takes a trip to establishments near the railway terminus, such as Aaram Restaurant, which has fed generations of commuters over the years.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is one of the few living UNESCO World Heritage sites in more ways than one. Not only do Mumbai’s multitudes walk through its interiors every single day, it has had cameos in numerous films. A flash of images in the documentary touch upon a fraction of these, from Slumdog Millionaire (2009) to Bunty Aur Babli (2005).
The film doesn’t focus only on the station’s architectural merits. There is a short section featuring the conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah and journalist and author Rajendra Aklekar, during which they shine a light on CST’s conservation failures. Twenty minutes is too short a time to fully explore the station’s fascinating stories. What we get is a reminder that Mumbai would be a poorer city if the railway administration was unable to maintain the structure.