Exploring the true story of the world’s largest industrial disaster, Netflix’s ‘The Railway Men’ recounts a dramatized account of the Bhopal Disaster of 1984. Union Carbide, an American company with a pesticide plant in Bhopal, deals with the life-threatening chemical MIC (scientifically known as methyl isocyanate). However, the factory falls short in terms of security and safety measures, which leads to a catastrophic gas leak that forever changes the lives of city residents.
Within the show, characters like Iftekaar Siddiqui, Imad Riaz, and Rati Pandey helm the narrative as courageous railway workers who risk their lives to save hundreds of others. Meanwhile, alongside the same, a secondary plotline also unfolds focused on the government’s response to Bhopal’s tragedy. In unraveling the same, Alex Braun, a toxicologist with expert knowledge about MIC, embodies an instrumental role. However, how much of his storyline is based on reality?
Dr. Max Daunderer: The Inspiration Behind Alex Braun
Alex Braun’s character is partially based in reality, with the real-life German toxicologist Max Daunderer as his primary source of inspiration. In the aftermath of the poisonous night of December 3, 1984, medical professionals were trying to find proper treatment for survivors. According to a technical report by Dr. S. Sriramachari, Dr. Heeresh Chandra, who was attending patients at Hamidia Hospital in Bhopal, suspected “acute cyanide poisoning” as the source of the survivor’s condition.
A few days after the incident, when treatments were still ongoing, Daunderer arrived in Bhopal and performed some preliminary tests on the survivor’s blood. Consequently, he reported the presence of Cyanide in the air and backed Chandra’s educated suspicions. Furthermore, the German toxicologist came armed with emergency medical supplies, including an estimated ten thousand vials of Sodium Thiosulfate, the known antidote for cyanide poisoning. Nevertheless, the man, hailing from Munich, was forced to leave Bhopal. In his report, Sriramachari cites the “raging controversy about cyanide toxicity issue” as a possible reason behind the same.
Therefore, Max Daunderer’s story presents an evident off-screen counterpart to Alex Braun. Yet, there are some vital differences between the two individuals to be noted. For instance, there are no records of a Union Carbide Factory worker reaching out to Daunderer to discuss the gas leak issue with him, nor was the man present on the scene as the leakage was actively unfolding. Likewise, there are no known records of Daunderer carrying out laboratory tests paid for by Union Carbide to study MIC’s toxicity.
Moreover, the show depicts Braun’s suggestion of Sodium Thiosulfate’s usage as an antidote as an idea exclusive to him. However, according to Sriramachari’s report, the idea was already put in place by Dr. Chandra of Hamidia Hospital. Similarly, his report also cites Union Carbide’s earlier message suggesting Sodium Thiosulfate injections to be used in case of Cyanide Poisoning. While the treatment did see some roadblocks in real life, the reason behind them didn’t exclusively stem from Daunderer’s involvement but included rumors of Sodium Thiosulfate’s deadly aftereffects.
Nevertheless, for the most part, Alex’s story seems to draw evident inspiration from Max Daunderer, including the former’s climactic storyline, where his spontaneous medical help was turned away. Ultimately, Alex’s narrative highlighted the political aspect of the Bhopal Gas Leak’s immediate aftermath by conveying the frustrating hurdles presented by a chain of command in times of crisis. Thus, his character remains a blend of fact and fiction.