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Designing And Shooting A Moving Train
Before he even went to India, Wes Anderson knew he wanted to shoot THE DARJEELING LIMITED on a real moving train – an idea that, at first, sounded as logistically outrageous as it was creatively inspiring. "You know, typically anybody making a movie that takes place on a train would shoot on a set, but it was abundantly clear with THE DARJEELING LIMITED that this was never going to happen, no matter how many people tried to talk Wes out of it,” muses Lydia Dean Pilcher. "I had just done THE NAMESAKE in India and we had shot only one day on a train and I knew it was not going to be an easy thing.”

Nevertheless, Anderson was determined. Continues Pilcher: "We were going into a region under the auspices of Northwestern Railways, and they had never had anybody come to them and say we need ten coaches and an engine for 3 months and we're going to strip them down, build our own interiors and we want to run it on a live track! It was unheard of and it involved navigating mountains and mountains of bureaucracy. At times it seemed impossible.”

Yet, still they forged ahead. While the filmmakers wrangled with Byzantine Indian bureaucracies, production designer Mark Friedberg – who previously collaborated with Anderson on the boat for THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU and whose work will also be seen this year in Julie Taymor's ACROSS THE UNIVERSE -- began creating the designs for the train's interior on paper, riffing on classical Indian trains and the great railway journeys of cinema.

Friedberg and Anderson began by taking a cross-Rajasthan trip on a typical tourist train to get a better feel for them and studying India's extensive railway history. It was in the 19th century that train travel first transformed India by tying together the far-flung continent with an extensive, cross country network of passenger trains. Today, the Indian rail system is by far the busiest in the world, with an astonishing 15 million passengers daily. The trains themselves range from sleek, air conditioned, modern cabins to classical, hand-carved steam engines from another era, with most falling somewhere in between the two.

Once he had become intimately acquainted with Indian rail, Friedberg went to the movies to look at various depictions of trains through the years. "Ultimately we cross-pollinated the actual Indian trains with luxury trans-world trains such as the Orient Express as well as the contemporary Euro transit trains,” the designer explains. "We also looked a great deal at the 20th Century Limited,” he adds, referring to the New York-based express passenger train that became known to railroad buffs as "The greatest train in the world.”

The final result was a kind of hybrid of East-West design. "We blended Rajasthan-style patterns and the color scheme of Indian Railways with a sort of modern Art Deco style – but all made in the handmade, Indian tradition,” Friedberg summarizes.

In bringing the train to vibrant life, Friedberg worked closely with art director Adam Stockhausen and graphic artist Mark Pollard, who helped to create the palette and texture of the train, heavily utilizing traditional Indian fabrics and prints, and oversaw the local painters who turned the train's exterior into a grand tapestry of hundreds of hand-drawn elephants. Teams worked in shifts, day and night, to finish the train in time.

For Friedberg, the chance to collaborate with the local artisans was itself a profound inspiration. "Working in India is a trip back in time. It's truly a hand-made place where no two of anything are the same and nothing fits in a mechanized kind of way,” he says. "It was such a treat to be part of the last generation that will be able to experience this more personal and beautiful world. If I had made this same train in America, it would never have had the same personality and integrity.”

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