‘The Railway Men’ is a great web series about the heroism of ordinary people, who are not much known. Hence its tagline – ‘The Untold Story of Bhopal 1984’. Nearly four decades ago, a highly toxic gas leak in a factory in Bhopal caused a humanitarian disaster. Railway workers have saved many lives in such situations. The magnitude of that true incident is shown in this series. It is now the top on Netflix in Bangladesh.
At the beginning, the context of the series floats on the screen with background sounds of people choking. On the night of December 2, 1984, that is, in the early hours of December 3, 40 tons of toxic gas methyl isocyanate (MIC) was released when an underground storage tank burst in the pesticide production chemical plant of the American-owned company Union Carbide in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. At least three thousand people lost their lives that night. Then the number of dead due to various diseases stood at 15 thousand. More than 200,000 people living outside the factory premises and in the slums near the factory have suffered from cancer, blindness, paralysis and various complex diseases of the liver and kidneys due to gas exposure. The series shows that if the railway workers did not risk their lives, the death toll would have increased.
The Bhopal gas tragedy is considered to be the world’s worst industrial disaster. The late Bhopal journalist Rajkumar Keswani had warned that something like this might happen. Prior to the gas tragedy, he had written several reports on safety lapses at the Union Carbide factory. Based on that, the character of fearless journalist Jagmohan Kumawat is written in the series.
As seen in the story, Imad Riaz (Babil Khan) is all set to join the railways. Before that, he gives an interview to Jagmohan Kumawat (Sunny Hinduja). Imad used to work as a truck driver in Union Carbide factory. His close friend Mohammad Ansari died of methyl isocyanate poisoning. Imad informs the journalist that he has vowed to bring justice to Ansari’s wife Shazia. That night, Shazia started coming to Bhopal with her two children on the Gorakhpur Express train.
In fact, the husband of a woman named Sajda Banu died in 1981 due to a gas leak at the Union Carbide factory. One of his two children died in the gas tragedy, while the other was maimed. Children of many mothers exposed to toxic gases suffer from mental-developmental problems. Thousands are left with life-long paralysis from pneumonia. Many still bear the scars of that horror. Methyl isocyanate, a toxic gas heavier than air, has left the scourge of deadly disease for future generations. Environmentalists claim that Bhopal’s soil and groundwater are still not safe due to the toxins released from the Union Carbide factory. After almost 40 years, many children are born disabled and crippled due to the effects of poisonous gas. After that disaster most of the children born in Bhopal did not grow normally.
Let’s go back to the story of the series. Union Carbide was created in 1969. It was producing pesticides using extremely dangerous chemical methyl isocyanate. Jagmohan Kumawat is desperate to expose several violations of factory rules. Thinking about the irresponsible errors and its negative impact on the common people, this journalist wants to bring the officials of the factory under accountability. He seeks the help of Kamruddin (Divyendu Bhattacharya), the manager of Union Carbide. Kamruddin promised to hand over a copy of a 1982 report to him, which would prove that the Union Carbide authorities were operating the factory without proper safety measures, putting the whole of Bhopal at risk.
Meanwhile, Imad Riaz reaches Bhopal Junction and impresses stationmaster Iftekhar Siddiqui (KK Menon) with his keen observational qualities. Stationmaster gave Imad charge of Nishatpura yard. That night, the stationmaster meets a mysterious young man (Divyendu Sharma). He introduced himself as a Railway Protection Force (RPF) constable. Basically he is the notorious dacoit Balwant Yadav who looted the goods of passengers in trains. This young man disguised himself as a security force. He comes to know that Iftekhar’s cabin has more than crores of rupees stored in his chest. His reason for coming to Bhopal is to acquire huge amount of money.
Before Balwant Yadav ransacked the railway station, many people died as toxic gases released from the Union Carbide factory filled the air and spread around the city. As a result chaos broke out at Bhopal Junction. Iftekhar asked all the passengers to enter the waiting room and close the doors and windows. Unfortunately, due to the breakdown of communication, he could not inform the nearby railway stations that it was not safe to allow any trains towards Bhopal. As time went on, his forehead became worried.
Fortunately General Manager (GM) of Central Railway Rati Pandey (R. Madhavan) appears at Itarsi Junction and realizes the depth of the situation. Without thinking about the risk of death, he decided to help the stranded passengers in Bhopal. After that many heartbreaking and heartbreaking incidents happened around Bhopal Junction. Hospitals overcrowded with gas-affected people, cows, dogs and cats lying dead on the streets are speechless.
The story of the web series is based on true events and written by Aayush Gupta. The texture of his screenplay is impeccable. He explained the whole situation thoroughly. But it doesn’t feel boring at all. Rather easy to understand. Ayush Gupta and Shiv Rawail have written simple dialogues that suit the scene.
It can be said that director Shiv Rawail has set a precedent in bringing real events to the screen with Munsiana. ‘The Railway Men’ is his directorial debut. He used graphics to show the location of Bhopal bound trains. This has helped the viewers to understand the prevailing situation. The graphics show the highly hazardous chemical spewing into the skies over the densely populated city of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. This means that Lake City has become a toxic city in an instant. Respecting the depth of the gas tragedy, the director did not bring too much drama. Rather, he has chosen a familiar style of storytelling.
Two earlier films have been made in India about the Bhopal gas disaster. These are Mahesh Mathai’s ‘Bhopal Express’ (1999) and Ravi Kumar’s ‘Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain’ (2014). But ‘The Railway Men’ is quite successful in detailing the entire incident.
Several scenes in the series are shocking, especially on that fateful night in which countless lives were saved. The scale of the gas tragedy was so great that many people did not understand the horror of what happened that night. The mother does not know that the child has fallen into the lap of death, the child does not know that the mother has been lost, even for some, the entire family has been wiped out. There are examples of these true events in various scenes of the series.
‘The Railway Men’ is the first web series by YRF Entertainment, the streaming arm of Bollywood’s flagship company Yash Raj Films. Its executive producers are Aditya Chopra and Uday Chopra. The makers have not unnecessarily extended the series. So there are only four episodes in it.
A month after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the Bhopal gas tragedy took place. For this reason, the inclusion of the issue of anti-Sikh riots seems to be a no-brainer. On the other hand, the swimmers’ part in the story felt forced. Due to some such sub-plots and past events, the series did not become a taut thriller.
On December 3, 1984, the unidentified bodies were buried on one side and cremated on the other side in a field near Bhopal Junction. It is seen in the climactic scene of the series. The stationmaster is declared dead but wakes up while being buried! It would be wrong to think that this was done because he is one of the main characters of the series. This is what actually happened.
When it comes to acting, KK Menon is simply impeccable. In the end he is the best actor of the series. His performance in the last episode is outstanding. Coincidentally, he was also in the lead role in the film ‘Bhopal Express’ which was released 24 years ago.
And. Madhavan came to the screen a little late, but he really touched the heart. Looking at him can make you want to stay on the screen a little longer! Babil Khan’s presence is great. This worthy successor of the late actor Irrfan Khan has established himself as an actor whose work the audience looks forward to seeing. Dibyendu gave his best. Sunny Hinduja and Divyandu Bhattacharya left a mark on the mind.
Juhi Chawla’s special appearance in the role of Rajeshwari Jungle, a senior officer in the Ministry of Railways is likable. Manish Badhwa (Mirza) proves his skill in just one scene. Phillip Roche’s over-the-top performance as factory chief Madsen is a sight to behold. But Conor Keane is quite good as the German scientist Alex Brown. Both are British actors.
Thanu Khan (Markand) and Aditya Shukla (Ratlu) are excellent as the two beggar children of the railway station. Besides, Srikanth Verma as Ishwar Kumar Prasad, Sunita Chand Rajwar as cleaner Vijaya and Priya Yadav as Vijaya’s daughter Sohini are perfect. Annapurna Soni did not get much of a chance as Shazia. Dubey’s role as Kamruddin’s wife Nafisa is fine. Lokesh Mittal as Vinod, the rough-tempered officer at Itarsi Junction, and Rahul Tewari as the dutiful Benedict do well. Raghuvir Yadav played a heroic role as a train guard. Mandira Bedi Jutsai as Sikh woman Rajveer Kaur. Nivedita Bhargava is also good as Imad’s mother. But the presence of Adrija Sinha as swimmer Himani felt wasted.
There is only one song in the series ‘The Railway Men’. Its title is ‘Nindia’. Two brothers Ankit Balhara and Sanchit Balhara composed the music and the song touches the heart. Sam Slater’s ambient music adds to the excitement at various moments. Rubais’ cinematography leaves an impression. Rajat Poddat’s excellent art direction is the product of good research. His skills make the context of 1984 realistic. The same applies to Rushi Sharma and Mansi Nath’s wardrobe plans. Sunil Rodriguez’s action is realistic. Yasha Jaydev Ramchandani’s editing is brilliant. But the VFX is not extraordinary.
The controversial attitude of the Union Carbide authorities regarding the gas disaster has been highlighted in this series. At the same time there is evidence of negligence on the part of Indian workers. Satya Prakash Chowdhury and J. two former employees of Union Carbide convicted in the gas disaster case. Mukund had approached the court seeking a stay on the release of the web series. But the Bombay High Court dismissed the case. Then it was released on Netflix on November 18.
Overall, ‘The Railway Men’ is a great web series with a great story of common man’s heroism. Everyone’s efforts are commendable. The context of the gas tragedy is still relevant today. Even in 2023, the neglect of the rich towards the lower income workers of the society remains the same. The series also shows how important clean air and water are for healthy living.
The first episode of ‘The Railway Men’ is 55 minutes, the second episode is 1 hour and 4 minutes, the third episode is 51 minutes and the last episode is 1 hour and 5 minutes long. Some real footage is included at the beginning of the first episode of the series and at the end of the last episode. Warren Anderson, former chairman of Union Carbide, was arrested by the Indian police when he visited the factory in Bhopal a few days after the accident. But within a few days he got bail.
As seen at the beginning of the series, Warren Anderson leaves India with government assistance. He died in September 2014. The Government of India, acting on behalf of the victims of the Bhopal accident, sought compensation of $3.3 billion. But in an out-of-court settlement, Union Carbide was freed in 1989 by paying $470 million in damages. But the general public demanded the punishment of Warren Anderson. However, in a dialogue of journalist Jagmohan Kumuwat, it has been informed, ‘Do you know the sentence of taking the lives of 15 thousand people in this country? Government aircraft for escape with champagne hospitality and VIP service.’
Author: Lyricist and Deputy News Editor, Bangla Tribune