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Review: The Railway Men

YRF's Netflix debut on the 1984 Bhopal Gas Leak mirrors Chernobyl's intensity, surpassing emotions evoked by HBO's 2019 series.

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The series opens with a crucial statement: “The truth is that in this country, the life of the average person is cheaper than sea salt or home-spun cloth.” YRF Entertainment’s The Railway Men on Netflix tackles the depressing effects of tragedy. The four-episode mini-series takes on the weight of a collective grief as it poignantly attempts to tell a story about the Bhopal Gas Leak that has not been told before. The images make us feel sad and vulnerable, and they show how desensitised we have become towards tragedy. As a reminder of a strange and crucial event in modern Indian history, this Netflix series tracing the aftermath of the disastrous poisonous gas leak is a standout. As the production company’s inaugural streaming initiative in partnership with Netflix, this moving story, hand-picked by none other than the head of YRF Aditya Chopra, is packed with powerful performances and drama and is a must-watch.

AT A GLANCE

Series: The Railway Men (Netflix)
Starring: R. Madhavan, Kay Kay Menon, Divyendu Sharma, Juhi Chawla, Babil Khan, and Sunny Hinduja
Director: Shiv Rawail
Rating: ****1/2

Embarking with a riveting blend of reality and fiction, the initial scenes of the series lay the foundation for the tragic events in Bhopal. The narrative seamlessly integrates historical re-enactments, press headlines, and a captivating voiceover, immersing viewers in the impending calamity. The storytelling suggests a perspective through the eyes of Jagmohan Kumawat (portrayed by actor Sunny Hinduja), a journalist and whistle-blower with a brief yet impactful role, delivering some of the series’ most compelling lines.

The story is set in December 1984. Young employees of the carbide chemical plant in Bhopal discover faulty machinery and warn the management to take action. The fault leads to a lethal gas leak risking millions of people who live in Bhopal. Eventually, the story condenses to the Bhopal railway station and concentrates on the story of crisis management by a handful of people, providing a public service perspective on a man-made calamity. Kay Kay Menon plays stationmaster Iftekaar Siddiqui, Divyendu Sharma is bandit/police constable Balwant Yadav, R Madhavan is Rati Pandey, and Babil Khan portrays Imad Riaz. They each ace their roles and rise to the occasion as heroes to save thousands of people trapped at Bhopal station when communication lines go down and the city is cut off. As a key figure in the rescue mission, Babil Khan’s performance as Imad Riaz is moving and unexpected. The plot gains dimension thanks to his acting, which is full of humanity.

Directed by Shiv Rawail, whose credits include YRF films such as Dhoom 3 (2013) and Befikre (2016), The Railway Men is a calm and powerful series offering a dramatic and intimate portrayal, emphasising the cost of negligence and impunity. Instead of grand speeches, it focuses on ordinary individuals fulfilling their duties. The show does a commendable job of avoiding melodrama by presenting the subject with a level-headed approach, which gives the plot more weight.

However, the series falters due to the abundance of side plots and characters. While the 1984 Sikh slaughter subplot is important for historical context, it feels unrelated to the primary gas leak scenario and breaks the narrative’s overall cohesion. Thankfully, there are no romantic plots unnecessarily weaved into the narrative, which would otherwise have been inappropriate in a tragic story.

The Railway Men stays faithful to its essence, which is to pay tribute to the brave people who rescued hundreds in Bhopal in 1984, even though the story gets a little overwhelming at times.

There will be obvious comparisons to HBO’s Chernobyl because both shows use an investigative technique to analyse a man-made disaster. Uncovering the roots of the tragedy, such as poorly trained personnel and cost-cutting measures, The Railway Men, however, hits the right spot and stands as an ode to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of hardship.

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Torsha Sen
Torsha Sen
A seasoned journalist who observes passage of time and uses tenses that contain simple past, continuous present, and a future perfect to weave stories.

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