The Railway Men Season 1 Review – A stirring tale of real-life heroism and governmental failure

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: November 18, 2023 (Last updated: November 20, 2023)
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The Railway Men Season 1 Review
The Railway Men | Image via Netflix


An effective and sensitive recreation of an avoidable tragedy, The Railway Men feels reminiscent of Chernobyl in its cautionary but inspiring approach.

It’s a bit reductive to say, but The Railway Men is very much India’s answer to HBO’s Chernobyl. Basis in avoidable real-life disaster? Check. Focus on the heroism of everyday people and the systemic failures of governments and bureaucracy? Check. It even has four episodes, which is closer to Chernobyl’s five than the usual 6 or 8 in most Netflix original shows, proving once again that quality trumps quantity almost every time.

It’s hard to make a show like this. The Railway Men recreates the Bhopal gas disaster of 1984, when the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, leaked forty tonnes of methyl-isocyanate, killing thousands of people in the small towns around the plant. But many people were saved by the actions of a handful of railway employees and a bandit. The official numbers of the dead and injured were horrifying, but, also like Chernobyl, were nothing close to the unofficial numbers.

The Railway Men Season 1 review and plot summary

The Railway Men is a sensitive depiction of this tragedy, with a who’s-who of talent – Babil Khan, R Madhavan, Kay Kay Menon, Divyendu Sharma, Dibyendu Bhattacharya – bringing the story to life with a focus on its most essential elements: The governmental and corporate failures that led to the disaster, and the indefatigable human spirit that saved so many through sheer will, pride, and determination.

There is unavoidably an “us versus them” element to stories like this, which is why those representing “us” – read: everyday, working people – are so vital to get right. The cast knows what they’re doing here. The true story element lends the whole thing an additional note of tragedy anyway, courting our sympathy for the scale of the disaster and how it disproportionately affected those who had nothing at all to do with it, but the performances ground the heroes by allowing us to understand how, among fundamentally good and brave people, fear gives way to an innate sense of duty and responsibility for others.

This idea is perhaps best explored through Divyenndu’s railway bandit character, who U-turns and reinvents himself to meet adversity head-on, but you can see it everywhere. The titular railway men represent the best of us; those who are willing to do what is right even at great personal expense. The drama writes itself.

RELATED: Is The Railway Men based on a true story?

That’s true on the macro level, anyway, but the micro scripting and structuring are still handled with aplomb here, weaving personal backstories into the present-day disaster and exploring the precise circumstances that led to such a disaster even being possible. These themes remain prescient since technological advances not only create more ways in which miraculous things can be achieved but also more ways in which things can go calamitously wrong.

And, of course, more advancement means more money, which means more greed, which creates a cavernous divide between the haves and the have-nots, and it’s always the latter who suffer. Here, the overwhelming pressure of overseas corporations incentivizing the powerful locals to exploit the poor and the hardworking led to an avoidable disaster; not for the first time and, regrettably, almost certainly not for the last.

One of the best Indian shows of the year

Coming hot on the heels of Kaala Paani, another Indian web series – though not a true story – based on ill-advised government corruption and overreach and how the best of people emerges in the worst of circumstances, The Railway Men is a viable contender for that show’s crown as 2023’s best series from the subcontinent.

Those who enjoyed Chernobyl – although perhaps “enjoyed” isn’t strictly the right word – will be well-served here by a miniseries that operates on a similar level, realistically and sensitively reinventing a tragedy that still works as a cautionary but inspiring tale today.

What did you think of The Railway Men Season 1? Comment below.

RELATED: The Railway Men Ending Explained

Netflix, Streaming Service, TV, TV Reviews
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