Contains major spoilers for The Girl on the Train – novel, 2015 film and 2021 film.
Paula Hawkins’ novel The Girl on the Train was a cultural phenomenon when it was published back in 2015, and a movie adaptation swiftly followed starring Emily Blunt in the lead role. Blunt plays Rachel, a depressed alcoholic who travels to London every day because she’s ashamed to tell her housemate she’s lost her job. Rachel is a blackout drunk obsessed with a couple she sees from the window of the train, but when the young woman goes missing Rachel insinuates herself into the investigation, despite having been seen in the area the night of the disappearance and having no memory of what happened.
It’s a twisty turny tale of abuse and gaslighting as well as a character study of three women whose lives are linked.
Now Netflix has released a new Hindi adaptation, initially planned for a 2020 release but postponed due to Covid, and it’s a very different beast – not least because of the direction it takes the ending.
Parineeti Chopra plays Mira (the Rachel character) – in this version she was formerly a lawyer, rather than a PR (which will be important later). In a belt and braces move, Mira suffers from anterograde amnesia caused by a car accident. She is also an alcoholic, which doesn’t exactly help the memory loss either.
Obsessed with a seemingly perfect couple she sees from the train window on her commute to London (yep, this one is set in London unlike the Emily Blunt version), one drunken night Mira follows the young woman into the forest but doesn’t recall what happens next.
Unlike Rachel, Mira is actually a bit of a badass. In this version, the police have a decent amount of circumstantial evidence against her and even move to make an arrest but Mira escapes out the window and calls in a favor from the family member of a former client. Get me a phone, cash, and a gun, she says.
Like in the book, Mira discovers that the missing girl, Nusrat, (Aditi Rao Hydari) wasn’t as happily married as she looked and that she was having an affair. For a good chunk of the movie, it’s entirely plausible that Mira is the killer – in a drunken rage which she accidentally records on her phone, Mira fantasizes about smashing Nusrat’s head in, angry that she is ruining her own marriage.
There are plenty of other suspects too, though, including Nusrat’s sex pest dance teacher, a blackmailing private eye, and more than one aggressive and abusive husband. This is less a character study of damaged souls and more a punchy whodunnit, which keeps us guessing right until the end, which deviates far from the book and the previous film adaptation.
Like in the original story, we learn that Mira’s philandering ex-husband Shehkar (Avinash Tiwary) has been gaslighting her for years. She’s a blackout drunk (and an amnesiac!) but she isn’t the violent, offensive brute that he’s been claiming, and she isn’t responsible for him losing his job.
Though Nusrat was unhappy in her marriage to abusive Anand (Shamaun Ahmed) and was pregnant by someone else, Anand didn’t kill her. Nor did the kindly therapist who was trying to help Nusrat. It turns out the Nusrat’s baby was Shehkar’s, and the night Mira followed Nusrat into “Greenwich Forest” Shehkar was there too and it was him who bashed Mira over the head with a rock and left her there. Nusrat told him of the pregnancy, they fought, and Shehkar strangled Nusrat, leaving her for dead.
But, (massive twist) she wasn’t dead, and here’s where the film diverts far away from the book. It turns out there were two other people in Greenwich Forest that night (a busy night in the old forest). These are the police woman in charge of the case, Inspector Dalbir (Kirti Kulhari), and a private detective named Walter (Richie Lawrie), who was hired by Anand to follow Nusrat.
Walter’s pictures from the night reveal that, unbelievably, Dalbir killed Nusrat. The daughter of an organized crime boss Mira had sent down (she was a lawyer remember) and who had killed himself in jail, Dalbir had a vendetta against Mira. It was she who crashed the jeep into Mira and Shekhar, causing Mira to lose her baby and get amnesia. It’s Dalbir who later mows down and kills Walter (to prevent him from sharing the evidence with Mira).
Dalbir had been tailing Mira for a time, and followed her into the forest. Finding her unconscious having been hit by Shekhar, Dalbir saw an opportunity to murder her in revenge. But Nusrat, who had just woken up, caught Dalbir trying to off Mira. Dalbir can’t leave a witness, so instead she decides to kill Nusrat and frame Mira for the murder.
Following the trail to Walter’s house (via, at one point, a man who’s job seems to be “standing next to a horse”), Mira solves the crime, and when Dalbir turns up to kill her and destroy the evidence ,a fight ensues and badass Mira ends up shooting Dalbir.
Then there’s a musical montage, a voiceover about a train, and the end.
That’s quite a series of coincidences, it’s true, and an awful lot of trouble to go to (for instance, Dalbir just runs Walter down in the street – might it not have been easier to do that to drunken Mira rather than her more elaborate plan?). But then if you’re going to reboot a celebrated grip-lit mystery, why not wrong-foot the audience right until the end? It’s a bit bonkers, but it kind of works.
The Girl on the Train is available to stream on Netflix now.