The Railway Men review: A standard yet gripping exploration of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy

Karishma Jangid
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The Railway Men

Netflix and Yash Raj Film's 'The Railway Men' revisits the horrid night of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and commends the railway employees who chose to be dutiful even in the face of death.

Growing up, we have all heard about the Bhopal Gas tragedy, a gas leak in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, that left more than 15,000 people dead on December 3, 1984. Termed to be the world’s worst industrial disaster, the leak of the poisonous gas, methyl isocyanate by the Union Carbide company is one of the darkest chapters of Indian history. Based on true events, Netflix’s ‘The Railway Men’ looks at this chapter from the point of view of the railway employees who put their lives at risk to save more people from dying. 

The four railwaymen are Iftekaar Siddiqui (Kay Kay Menon), Imaad Riyaz (Babil Khan), The Express Bandit (Divyenndu), and Rati Pandey (R. Madhavan). Iftekaar is Bhopal Junction’s station master, a quiet but honest man for whom duty always comes first. Imaad is a slum-dweller about to go on his first day at work at the railway station. Knowing that Union Carbide is dangerous for the city, he helps journalist Jagmohan Kumawat (Sunny Hinduja) uncover its truth. Meanwhile, the Express Bandit has arrived at Bhopal Junction to loot the railways. Rati is the General Manager of Central Railways who has arrived at Itarsi for an inspection. United by their courage and kindness, these men help save lives as Bhopal becomes a gas chamber overnight. 

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Right from the word go, the miniseries feels like a ticking bomb about to explode. It starts with enough tension in the air and thought-provoking dialogues. The script’s structure looks similar to those of most OTT series, but it is intriguing enough to keep you hooked. Add to this, some remarkable acting. Menon is the star of the show with his restrained but powerful acting. He acts righteous but never expects anything in return - not even a smile of triumph on his face. He carries Iftekaar’s pain in his eyes and the air around him. Khan, Divyenndu, and Hinduja play their roles well. Dibyendu Bhattacharya, as Kamruddin, a manager at Union Carbide, also makes a mark with his short but impactful acting. On the contrary, even though Madhavan has received a lot of prominence, neither his character nor his acting makes much of an impact. Madhavan’s dialogue delivery somehow makes the character look more self-absorbed than it needs to. While all other characters seem to be focused on the tragedy, his acting brings more focus to his character than the tragedy which can be distracting. 

The series comments on a vast array of subjects - capitalism, poverty, journalism, bureaucracy, and politics among other things. Most of its commentary is relevant. Its criticism of capitalistic greed, the portrayal of the helplessness of wage workers, and the importance of honest journalism are all valid and crucial. Moreover, studying the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in connection with the political state of the country (involving the Sikh Genocide) instead of looking at it in isolation is a good decision. However, the series, more or less looks at the issues with the binary outlook of white and black, good and bad which limits the series’ potential. Also, parallels are made with the current political environment, but the intention seems unclear. “Indira ke hathyaaro ko, jaan se maaro saalon ko” sounds similar to the slogans used against anti-CAA/ NRC protestors, “Desh ke gaddaro ko, goli maro saalon ko.” In another scene, foreign officials are asked to stay out of India’s 'internal matter'. But what purpose do these parallels serve? Is this to show negative similarities between the current and the Rajiv Gandhi regime? Is this to show that not much has changed? Or these parallels have been included just to grab the audience’s attention? Who knows!

While The Railway Men has its flaws, it still makes for an interesting watch, especially with its moving climax. As a miniseries that won’t take as long as other series, The Railway Men still entertains and educates simultaneously and does a good job at it.

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