The limited series “The Railway Men” navigates the aftermath of the Bhopal gas tragedy with laudable performances but falls short in fully capitalizing on its potential, leaving some characters underutilized and the narrative feeling somewhat burdened.
“The Railway Men,” a four-part Netflix series produced by YRF Entertainment and directed by debutant Shiv Rawail, seeks drama in the tragic Bhopal gas incident of 1984. While buoyed by commendable performances, the show grapples with finding the right balance between fact and fiction, especially concerning the unsung heroes responding to the catastrophe at the city’s railway station.
The series features a parallel narrative, intertwining real and fictional elements without clear demarcation. The central character is Iftekhar Siddiqui (Kay Kay Menon), a battle-scarred railway man who puts his life on the line to save others during the crisis. While Menon’s portrayal is brilliant, the series introduces a conman character (Divvyendu Sharma) that feels extraneous, adding a conflict of morality but not fully integrating into the narrative.
The plot explores the consequences of the tragedy, shedding light on the investigative journalist (Sunny Hinduja) uncovering safety violations at the Union Carbide pesticides factory. Imad Riaz (Babil Khan), a rookie loco pilot with inside knowledge, adds another layer to the reluctant hero archetype.
Despite the well-documented context, the ‘untold’ aspects of the story provide moments that linger, yet the series leaves the audience feeling it could have achieved more. The realistic portrayal of an industrial disaster is commendable, but the multitude of characters, particularly the women, feels crowded out.
Female characters, such as the daughter of a station cleaning woman and Imad’s mother, are given limited screen time. Juhi Chawla’s role as a senior railway officer, the only woman in an emergency meeting, doesn’t transcend the confines of the high-density storyline focused on a male quintet.
While the male characters face multiple challenges, including defending passengers from rioters and organizing relief efforts, some, like Dibyendu Bhattacharya and Shrikant Verma, deserved more screen time.
“The Railway Men” draws parallels to the anti-Sikh riots and the systemic failures leading to the Bhopal tragedy. The series concludes with a stark observation on unpunished culprits and unrewarded heroes, lacking nuance about its relevance to the present day.
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