The Railway Men
It is a Sunday and the big day is finally here! It is India Vs Australia at the Finals of the ODI Cricket World Cup and we at Popcorn Reviewss wish our Men In Blue the best and may our boys lift the World Cup after 12 long years. And while my heartbeat is slowly gaining intensity, I thought of squeezing in a review of the new Hindi series, The Railway Men which is now streaming on Netflix. Right from the time of its announcement, The Railway Men had made all the right kind of noise with respect to its casting featuring the first brush of Babil on OTT(his other two ventures weren’t announced then) along with Kay Kay Menon, Madhavan and Divyendu who are such powerhouse performers. But the series was also touted to be the first of the many from YRF who had aspired to launch their own OTT platform. Now clearly the latter did not transpire but there was still a buzz amongst the cinephiles on any update related to The Railway Men.
During its first announcement, I was quite looking forward to watching the show but little did I know on what the show stood for until Netflix came into the picture. The tagline of the show said, ‘The Untold Story Of Bhopal 1984’ and immediately my mind rushed towards The Bhopal Gas Tragedy which was the darkest chapter of our country since the Partition. With so many lives lost and its repercussions prevalent even as I type this review today, the scale of destruction has been huge and something which ought to have been curbed early on. And so the stakes of The Railway Men had definitely increased to a point wherein I was curious to know more about the incident, a genre that has been tapped into by Netflix right throughout its brilliant run in 2023 with shows like Trial By Fire or even Scoop(based on real-life incidents). So then does The Railway Men manage to impress, let’s find out.
Story & Screenplay
Based on an intriguing chapter of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in 1984, The Railway Men follows the story of unsung heroes of the Indian Railways who managed to save many people of Bhopal even while putting their own lives at stake. The story here is frightening with respect to the amount of collateral damage that was showcased after the gas leak while evoking a heartfelt sentiment around the rescue operation that was underway despite little to no aid from the higher authorities. It is often seen that during a crisis, humanity rises to the ocassion thus resulting in a heartwarming episode amidst the chaos around. And the story here taps into the exact same sentiment while deftly celebrating the unsung heroes of the tragedy who tried their best to reduce the damage, overall. The screenplay standing at 4 episodes of around an hour each, represents the chaos in the drama perfectly while creating an atmosphere of trauma from one of the darkest chapters of the country. This did result in a compelling show which had me glued to my screen from start to finish while deftly touching the strings of my heart in what was another winner as far as the writing was concerned.
The drama opens with a little context provided on the geo-political stance featuring around the Bhopal Gas Tragedy that resulted in one of the prime accused US National being provided a sage passage back to his country. The frames alternate between real photos and frames that recreate the same original photo, a pattern that we get to see even towards the dying minutes of the show. The magnitude of the tragedy can surely not be judged from some frames but it did set the ball rolling for the drama to follow. Soon you are introduced to a few of the protagonists in the drama, all from different walks of life in a buildup to the actual tragedy that transpires. Having a timer onscreen doesn’t allow the viewers to lose focus of what things are on offer while also allowing them sufficient time to invest in the respectives journeys of all characters. The buildup is slow but steady wherein the writers utilize the time in the world building and characterization really well while briefly touching upon the politics leading up to the tragedy.
The proceedings are engaging and engrossing with the beats of the narrative picking pace following the tragedy that did lead to such chaos in what seemed like a helpless situation. The writers do well in allowing the viewers to be silent bystanders in the drama by virtue of which you get to imbibe the fear and the chaos around the characters. There is a significant amount of coherence in the drama particularly with respect to the different worlds that converge due to the ongoing tragedy, and how the larger good of mankind is the sole driving factor of reducing the collateral damage in the limited capacities of the characters. The writers also touch upon the human tendency of being selfish with respect to the members of the crowd before balancing the narrative with a few of the unsung heroes on the fore. This while briefly touching upon the political environment following the tragedy with respect to the authories and a subplot including the hate towards the Sikhs(given that the year 1984 marked the assasination of our then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi). And this while the tragedy in itself acts as a catalyst to drive the narrative ahead.
The writers maintain a solid grip right throughout the narrative by constantly integrating one conflict after another. As a result, it does keep the viewers on tenterhooks while being curious on how the events would actually reach its conclusion. The events leading up to the final act are interesting with the stakes in the drama being raised slowly but surely. However, the final conclusion did feel a little simplistic and I couldn’t help but think that another layer could have been added in the form of a conflict to flesh out the final act. The show was an episode short for me wherein a final twist even with respect to the geo-political angle could have elevated the show to another level. But the final act does have heartfelt moments that deftly touch the strings of your heart while you quietly shed a tear or two. Overall, the screenplay is very well written and it makes for a compelling watch.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are conversational but they make for a solid impact by infusing the lines with some much needed urgency. The music and BGM beautifully gel with the drama while tapping into some heartfelt emotions along the way. I did like the documentary style approach with respect to the cinematography at the beginning of the show, something that stamped the fact that this wasn’t fiction but recreated events throughout the drama. And some of the frames have a haunting and traumatic vibe to it. Picture this, there is chaos all around due to the tragedy with several people falling prey to it followed by death. The camera pans to a little baby sucking the breasts of her mother while slowly you get to see that the mother has already passed away. That for me was a frame worth a million nightmares. And such frames are meticulously incorporated in this startling narrative and a huge shoutout to the DOP for showcasing some brilliant skills.
The colour grading imbibes the vibe of the drama perfectly with a greyish filter that accompanies the narrative throughout representing the grim situation of the people. The editing is crisp and sharp with not a single moment of lag in the drama. Director Shiv Rawail does a brilliant job in creating moments of chaos while lacing them with a human touch that adds to the compelling nature of the drama. The helpless situation being represented here was frightening and a lot of credit goes to the director for the same. The direction is phenomenal here.
The performances are excellent by the ensemble cast. One thing that stood out with the writing of the characters was that the differences between a few characters did not deter them from uniting for a larger cause. Isn’t that what we must all learn? Agree to disagree but be united throughout! Anurag Arora, Priitam Jaiswal and Adrija Sinha have their moments to shine. Priya Yadav as Sohini has a good screen presence and she does a swell job. Sunita Rajwar as Vijaya is top notch and does a tremendous job. Shrikant Verma as Prasad is endearing and his character definitely leaves an impact. The veteran Raghubir Yadav is wonderful to witness. Gandharv Dewan is menacing and his character will leave you fuming which means a great job done overall. Bhumika Dube as Nafisa is such a fine actor and she plays with her emotions just so deftly that makes you feel for her character(especially in a scene at a later timeline). Dibyendu Bhattacharya as Kamruddin is such a natural onscreen and his ability to seamlessly add urgency to his character after being calm and composed, all in a single episode, was phenomenal to watch.
Annapurna Soni as Shazia delivers a heartfelt performance without going overboard with the emotions. She was well restrained in a fine job done overall. Mandira Bedi as Rajbir Kaur showcases fear as an emotion just so well without being overtly expressive with it. This was a beautifully controlled performance that hit home beautifully. Juhi Chawla Mehta as Rajeshwari is assertive but also heartfelt with her performance, the latter virtue that she uses sparingly and effectively. Sunny Hinduja as Kumawat is a revelation. There is a sense of sincerity to his character that is so righteous and someone who can distinguish between right and wrong. And he was brilliant to witness here.
R Madhavan as Rati Pandey is effective despite his character being slightly underwritten. He has an endearing quality to him that results in a rousing impact as far as his character is concerned. Divyendu as Balwant had a nice little character arc to play with and you could slowly see the shift in his character traits which was just so beautifully portrated by him. Time for producers to keep flooding him with such meaty roles wherein he gets a chance to showcase his incredible acting chops more frequently.
Babil Khan as Imad was absolutely brilliant to the score. The vulnerability that he brought to his character was just so incredible while also showing immense maturity with respect to the stillness and dignity, virtues that shape his character despite a personal loss. Also, his ability to moisten his eyes in a running shot was fascinating to watch. I saw a young Irrfan in him from Salaam Bombay, the innocent streak in him was just so prevalent. This is a performance that would make his dad proud(and I hope he is in a better place, much love and respect always).
The star of the show for me is Kay Kay Menon as Iftekaar. Now Kay Kay has always been a phenomenal actor with a sea of good performances to his credit. But it won’t be wrong to say that his performance here would be right up there, probably one of the best performances of his career. And I humbly say this because there were limitations to his character, having me covered with a mask for a large chunk of the runtime. Yet, his eyes were so powerful and expressive that I was lured in his world of pain and agony. The amount of intensity that he brought to his performance was simply incredible. He was brilliant to the core in this acting masterclass of the highest order!
The Railway Men is a heartfelt ode to the unsung heroes of The Bhopal Gas Tragedy that makes for a brilliant watch in a drama that comes with my highest recommendation. Netflix India scores yet again, as does YRF! Available on Netflix and Highly Recommended!