Is Babil Khan’s Imad Riaz Based on a Real Person?

Netflix’s dramatized Hindi thriller show about the Bhopal Disaster of 1984, ‘The Railway Men,’ employs multiple strong lead characters to helm the tale and convey the true gravity of the real-life event. Among them, Imad Riaz, a Union Carbide factory worker wronged by the company, occupies a significant place within the narrative through his youthful bravery. The tragic chain of events began at the Union Carbide plant when their stores of the deadly MIC chemical leaked into the city. Thus, due to the poison-laced night air, the residents of Bhopal face illness and death like never before, including the hundreds of people at the nearby train station.

Imad Riaz is one of the loco pilots in the same station and the only person with knowledge, even if minimal, about the MIC gas leak. The same, paired with his courageous disposition, proves immensely helpful as Stationmaster Iftekaar Siddiqui tries to minimize the loss of life across the Bhopal Junction. Therefore, given the crucial role Imad plays throughout the show and his connections to the railway alongside Union Carbide, viewers must be curious about his real-life origins— specifically, if there are any.

Real-Life Events Inspired Imad Riaz’s Story

Imad Riaz’s character is not based on a real person. ‘The Railway Men’ is primarily a fictitious story inspired by true events. As such, the story’s general premise and overarching plotlines are faithful to reality. However, other details, such as characters and their specific storylines, are works of fiction that only use reality as a point of inspiration. Consequently, Imad Riaz remains a fictional character, albeit one with riveting roots in real life.

The show’s creators, director Shiv Rawail and screenwriter Aayush Gupta delved into old information archives, like newspapers and testimonies, as research for their story. Thus, despite Imad’s lack of a firm connection with an off-screen counterpart, the duo managed to infuse enough reality into his story to maintain authenticity.

Within the show, Imad is introduced after he departs from Union Carbide following his close friend, Mohammed Ansari’s death. The factory is showcased as a lax-run establishment with minimum working safety protocols and fail-safes in place. As a result, Mohammed, a longtime worker, had fallen victim to the factory’s adverse working conditions due to over-intake of the MIC chemical. Nevertheless, the company never took proper responsibility for Mohammed’s death and neglected to compensate his widow properly.

As a result, Imad, Mohammed’s closest friend, decides to care for the latter’s family himself and calls them over to Bhopal. However, the family’s arrival in Bhopal falls on the same night as the gas leak, with their Gorakhpur train set to arrive at the station as the human-made pestilence is actively unfolding. Thus, Mohammed and his family’s stories end up playing a crucial role in Imad’s motives since their safety is part of the reason the man is willing to put his life on the line.

As it turns out, this aspect of Imad’s story is heavily inspired by real life. In December 1981, Ashraf Khan, a Union Carbide employee who saw routine exposure to harmful gases, passed away after receiving intensive care at Gandhi Medical College & Hamidia Hospital. However, the company downplayed its employee’s death, even managing to keep his autopsy report out of his widow, Sajida Bano’s hands. Instead, Union Carbide only shared a low compensation of ₹50 thousand. Thus, the woman and her two children were left robbed of justice and closure.

Worse yet, Sajida fell victim to Union Carbide’s malpractices yet again on the 2nd-3rd December 1984, when they arrived at Bhopal railway station on the night of the gas leak. Ultimately, Sajida managed to survive the night but lost one of her children, with the other’s learning abilities forever damaged as a side-effect of the gas.

While there isn’t any mention of a kind-hearted family friend who was seeking justice for Sajida and her deceased husband, it’s evident that the woman’s story likely inspired the details of Imad’s fictional life.

Alternatively, the character’s selfless, heroic streak also symbolizes the numerous railway workers who played instrumental roles during the Bhopal Tragedy. In fact, the same caught actor Babil Khan’s interest upon his initial introduction to the story. “The first thing that attracted me was the story and the way in which this show views heroism and shows that heroes don’t always wear capes,” said the actor in an interview. “Each of us has a hero inside them, and it is when crisis comes and the decisions you take that makes you a hero or not.”

Read More: The Railway Men’s Real Story: Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Explained