Bhopal gas tragedy is one of the worst industrial disasters not only in Indian history, but the world. Nearly four decades after, we relive the tragedy that shook the city. The Railway Men, a four part limited-series, takes us down the horrific time when thousands of lives were lost and many scarred down the generations.
A YRF production, early on we learn how the culprits, the American owners of Union Carbide, the epicentre of the poisonous gas leak walked, ahem, flew away scot-free. The stance of the debutant director Shiv Rawail and writer Aayush Gupta is more than clear… Sunny Hinduja as Jagmohan Kumawat, a journalist is the voice of the series. He shows us the mirror and underlines how as a nation we don’t punish those who take lives nor reward those who save them.
The series does point fingers at the establishment. Perhaps, it helps that the current dispensation was not in power in 1984. It was also the year when Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated and what followed was yet another shameful chapter of free India — the anti-Sikh riots. While the main focus of the narrative is on the gas leak and how a few good and conscientious railway men stood up, a subplot, involving Raghubir Yadav and Mandira Bedi, deals with the genocide.
With Kay Kay Menon as the heart of human goodness, you can only expect an energy that is sublimated, realistic and fully alive. That he is a man of unalloyed conscience is apparent the moment his character of Iftekaar Siddiqui, the station master of the Bhopal Junction railway station, is introduced. Ditto for Dibyendu Bhattacharya as Kamruddin, a manager at Union Carbide, though his is a short part, it’s central to the plot.
Once the focus shifts to saving lives and humanitarian acts, certain scenes of chaos do get repetitive. Dead bodies piling up, crowds echoing the mob mentality are rather regular. Besides, in a short series, certain tracks like that of sports girls caught in the chaos are not fully developed. Of course, among the central protagonists Divyenndu of Mirzapur fame and Irrfan Khan’s gifted son Babil Khan not only get enough screen time, but also enough room to flex their acting muscles. If Babil as Imad Riaz appears sincere in both intent and action, Divyendu as a bandit lands up in Bhopal with an intention to rob. Yet masquerading as a police constable caught in adverse circumstances, he is inadvertently drawn to do and act good. His character has an interesting arc and his dramatic flair bordering on chutzpah brings in a smile or two.
R Madhavan as Rati Pandey, the general manager of the West Central Railway zone adds to the star value and gravitas. Juhi Chawla in a cameo brings her charm. The only oddity is Manish Wadhwa, as Mirza, trying to corrupt her. Of course, the series is not about star charisma but heroism in the face of death. And it’s in this portrayal of ordinary men, who do their duty at grave risk to their lives and jobs, that the series triumphs. Not to say it does not leave you with niggling queries and discomfiting truths.
Though the makers don’t say so, it also leaves you with a disturbing reminder; as far as safety hazards go perhaps we may not have still learnt our lessons. Streaming on Netflix, it’s both a cautionary tale and one of common people’s uncommon heroics, and how they rise to the occasion.
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