Famous Mahalaxmi Studio
The dampness of Bombay welcomes the Rita Mitsouko in 1989. Catherine Ringer and Fred Chichin enjoy the bustle of this huge city. The colors and the poverty reveal themselves to them as shown in the documentary Life on the Rail tracing this Indian journey. It is in this region that the group puts in image the clip of the Small train.
A cheerful track for a dark title
Before going to the tenth most populous city in the world with its 18 million inhabitants, the Rita Mitsouko lock themselves in a studio to record the album Marc et Robert in 1988. In addition to the hit Singing in the Shower with the Sparks, the rock band puts to music Le petit train.
Under its cheerful and joyful appearance, the piece closes however a very sad story. That of Sam Ringer, Catherine’s father. French painter of Polish Jewish origin born in 1918, he was deported during the Second World War. He participated in the construction of the Auschwitz camp in 1940. He was then taken prisoner in no less than nine camps including Theresienstadt. He was released in 1945.
The little train, little train of death
This little train that goes away in the countryside, winding nonchalantly, is that of a deportation train. The one in which Sam Ringer was locked up for hours before arriving in Poland.
By choosing this train, Les Rita Mitsouko can talk about the Shoah in a direct way. The lyrics, “Petit train, Conduis-les aux flammes, à travers champs“, contrast with the joyful melody and the lively rhythm of the song. In fact, many people danced frantically to this song, at first, without understanding the point.
A ray of hope in a terrible moment
This carefree atmosphere, the group had already tested it on their first hit, Marcia Baïla. The piece featured the suffering and cancer of Marcia Moretto, choreographer and dance teacher of Catherine Ringer.
As she often confides, this shift represents the glimmer of hope in a terrible and dark time. To reinforce this, Fred Chichin and his partner decided to make the video-clip of the song in a colorful and dancing country, India.
Famous Mahalaxmi Studio, a showcase for The Little Train
During twelve days, Les Rita Mitsouko walked the streets of Bombay. Here and there, they filmed clips for their songs, including the one for Hip Kit, with Fred driving a motorcycle and Catherine on the back, singing.
Their journey begins at the Ritz Hotel in the city; their place of accommodation. For Le petit train, the couple used the Famous Mahalaxmi Studio for many sequences. Those of the beginning of the clip where we discover golden faces in the dark. Like statues, they represent the caricature of the wealthy Jew.
The little train goes into the countryside
Then come the Gypsies or probably a people oppressed by the Nazis. Everyone jumps happily. Once again, this rather kitsch and revolving cardboard set was filmed in the studios.
The next part takes place in a natural place. If we don’t really know where it is, we know thanks to the documentary La vie du rail that Les Rita Mitsouko took a train to get there. A place quite far from Bombay because it is quite wild. There, Catherine Ringer with other young women dance in the manner of Bollywood
The clip then alternates between outdoor and studio shots at the Famous Mahalaxmi Studio. The singer grimaces like the paintings of the German Expressionists of the 1920s. Those like Otto Dix, who told of the war and the broken faces. These same painters persecuted by the Nazi regime and whose paintings were banned. As for the dancers, they are inexorably approaching their fate towards the barbed wire fences of the extermination camp.
Another train, that of André Claveau
If the lyrics are strong and the video-clip very joyful, Le petit train is a song inspired by the eponymous title of André Claveau. The 1952 piece tells of the inexorable end of a small country train replaced by buses. “Il a perdu la bataille […] Il s’en va vers le tas de ferrailles
Tchi tchi fou tchi tchi fou. C’est fini…”
This first version also tells of a certain death. That of a means of locomotion, much less anxiety-provoking than the trains of the Final Solution planned by the Nazi regime.
“Reverra-t-on une autre fois passer des trains comme autrefois ?”
As for Sam Ringer, Catherine his daughter and Fred his son-in-law, pay tribute to him again in C’était un homme on the album Cool Frénésie published in 2000. The title is a reference to Si c’est un homme, Primo Levi’s autobiographical novel about his detention in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
“Ils l’ont pris à 19 ans,
il fit pendant ces cinq ansem,
Neuf camps différents.
In the last words of the Petit Train, the interpreter asks this question: « Reverra-t-on une autre fois passer des trains comme autrefois ? » Then adds: “It is not me who will answer”. A warning dating from 1988, unfortunately still relevant.
The documentary La vie du rail lasts 34 min and 43 seconds.
The Famous Mahalaxmi Studio is a recording studio in Mumbai, India.
It has been open since 1946 not far from the centre of Bombay. Today, the studios offer visual engineering, a post-production department and a projection room.
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By Damien Canteau
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