To escape the boredom of the slums, this tight crew of friends climb speeding intercity trains to perform stunts
Adrenaline junkies in the outskirts of Mumbai dangle out of speeding trains for cheap thrills. These train surfers – mostly teen boys – jump onto moving trains, and “surf” by hanging out of open carriage doors and dragging their flip flops along station platforms. Once the train hits top speed, they will pull killer stunts by climbing out onto the side of the train and tempting fate by dodging the steel pylons that line the sides of the track.
It’s not only dangerous; it’s illegal. These suburban teens have to dodge cops and outwit plainclothes officers in order to keep their suicidal dream alive. If caught, “the police beat you ruthlessly,” explains one boy in the film. “They do not care if you die.” Beatings by bamboo stick are accompanied by fines of 500 Rupees. Often, the surfers film these stunts and post the footage to social media, where the videos rack up thousands of views.
“There was something incredibly beautiful about seeing this boy risk his life in front a of single person audience with no intention other than to feel something stronger than the daily boredom” – Adrien Cothier
That’s where filmmaker Adrien Cothier found one of these viral videos. He vowed to track down the stunt performers he witnessed skirting death for his short film, Train Surfers. “A month before my departure to India, I accidentally stumbled upon a viral phone video of a teenager filming his friend train surfing an old Indian wagon going full speed,” he says. “There was something incredibly beautiful about seeing this boy risk his life in front a of single person audience with no intention other than to feel something stronger than the daily boredom. I instantly started researching and decided to document it.”
Cothier and his crew found a few of the daredevils once they’d staked out a train station in the Mumbai area and convinced a few of the boys to participate in the film. Keeping up with them was testing. He was forced to shoot guerrilla style, without legal permits. However, the biggest challenge tested Cothier’s principles. “The real ethical dilemma was to put a camera in front of teenagers who'd never received this sort of attention doing something extremely dangerous.”
Their high-risk practice is fun, but for those living in Mumbai’s infamous slums, it provides an escape. “Train surfing is definitely an outlet to feel something stronger than their daily routines,” says Cothier. “But even if they have to share a room every day with their entire family, they find excitement and joy everywhere. The most important thing I've learned making this film was that boys will be boys no matter their situation.”