Documentary channel

Why teenage boys perform life-threatening stunts on Mumbai’s trains: ‘We just enjoy ourselves’

Adrien Cothier’s documentary follows a group of daredevil boys who risk their lives in the name of fun.

In August 2011, two young men from Mumbai hopped onto a running train, hung out of the door, skid their feet on the station platform and then leapt out to hit the electric poles alongside the track.

The life-threatening stunt was captured in a low-resolution YouTube video that did the rounds of social media and forced railway authorities to swing into action. The video also caught the attention of Adrien Cothier. The New York City filmmaker, who was on the verge of finishing his first semester of graduation school, decided to meet the boys behind the stunts and make a documentary on them. Train Surfers follows a group of five school dropouts from slums in suburban Mumbai who play cards, dance, zoom around on motorbikes and flaunt their love for deadly stunts.

Cothier neither glorifies nor criticises the amateur stunt artists, but simply turns the camera on them so that we may hear their point of view. “We ignore our parents’ worries,” says one of the boys, whose face is covered by a mask to prevent the railway police from spotting him. “To risk our lives does not bother us. We just enjoy ourselves; we’ll deal with the consequences later.” (The faces of the boys are revealed through the rest of the film, though.)

The stunts are not always enjoyable for viewers, who might be shocked at the sight of the boys casually hanging from moving trains and ducking inside when electric poles approach without losing their grip.

It’s not always a smooth landing. One of the surfers suffered injuries after falling off a train, but he remains undeterred by the threat to his life.

The risk-addicted teenagers from Mumbai’s underprivileged pockets are no different from their counterparts in New York City, the filmmaker said in an interview to the American Film Institute. Cothier was interested in studying the influence of social circumstances on group behaviour. In the second half of the film, the focus shifts from the obsession with train stunts to the strong bonds that unite the boys. These childhood friends share a sense of brotherhood and find ways to fight what they regard as daily boredom. They are aware that they are frittering their lives away, but as one of them tells Cothier, “I actually have thought of becoming someone good in life but I still have time… It’s too early for anyone to make something of this life.”

Play
Train Surfers.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Watch Ruchir's journey: A story that captures the impact of accessible technology

Accessible technology has the potential to change lives.

“Technology can be a great leveller”, affirms Ruchir Falodia, Social Media Manager, TATA CLiQ. Out of the many qualities that define Ruchir as a person, one that stands out is that he is an autodidact – a self-taught coder and lover of technology.

Ruchir’s story is one that humanises technology - it has always played the role of a supportive friend who would look beyond his visual impairment. A top ranker through school and college, Ruchir would scan course books and convert them to a format which could be read out to him (in the absence of e-books for school). He also developed a lot of his work ethos on the philosophy of Open Source software, having contributed to various open source projects. The access provided by Open Source, where users could take a source code, modify it and distribute their own versions of the program, attracted him because of the even footing it gave everyone.

That is why I like being in programming. Nobody cares if you are in a wheelchair. Whatever be your physical disability, you are equal with every other developer. If your code works, good. If it doesn’t, you’ll be told so.

— Ruchir.

Motivated by the objectivity that technology provided, Ruchir made it his career. Despite having earned degree in computer engineering and an MBA, friends and family feared his visual impairment would prove difficult to overcome in a work setting. But Ruchir, who doesn’t like quotas or the ‘special’ tag he is often labelled with, used technology to prove that differently abled persons can work on an equal footing.

As he delved deeper into the tech space, Ruchir realised that he sought to explore the human side of technology. A fan of Agatha Christie and other crime novels, he wanted to express himself through storytelling and steered his career towards branding and marketing – which he sees as another way to tell stories.

Ruchir, then, migrated to Mumbai for the next phase in his career. It was in the Maximum City that his belief in technology being the great leveller was reinforced. “The city’s infrastructure is a challenging one, Uber helped me navigate the city” says Ruchir. By using the VoiceOver features, Ruchir could call an Uber wherever he was and move around easily. He reached out to Uber to see if together they could spread the message of accessible technology. This partnership resulted in a video that captures the essence of Ruchir’s story: The World in Voices.

Play

It was important for Ruchir to get rid of the sympathetic lens through which others saw him. His story serves as a message of reassurance to other differently abled persons and abolishes some of the fears, doubts and prejudices present in families, friends, employers or colleagues.

To know more about Ruchir’s journey, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Uber and not by the Scroll editorial team.