Alex Braun In ‘The Railway Men’ Is Based On Real-Life Toxicologist, Max Daunderer


A lie told to hide a lie can often lead to unimaginable consequences. It is what happened in the real-life case of Union Carbide. The company kept telling the government and millions of people that the gas leaked from their chemical plant was nothing more than an irritant, a tear gas. In The Railway Men series, a person named Alex Braun (played by Connor Keene) recognized the true nature of the chemicals discharged from the factory and decided to help the victims, unaware of the deep-rooted corruption protecting such evil. The character of Braun in the series is inspired by a real-life German toxicologist, Max Daunderer, who flew to Bhopal with some 50,000 ampoules of the antidote (the number of the vials may vary). In the series, Braun was contacted by a mysterious caller from the factory, after which he learned about the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and offered to help, but in real life, no such incident took place.

In The Railway Men, it was portrayed that Alex Braun went to the PMO office in order to inform him about the antidote, but that scene was entirely fictional. Additionally, the character of Rajeshwari Janglay wasn’t based on any real-life person, which further suggests the fact that no such meeting between Daunderer or any government official ever took place. In real life, Daunderer arrived in Bhopal on December 8, and therefore, it can be speculated that he got the news from the papers or from other sources. However, the question that should be asked is, why was Daunderer barred from helping the victims and asked to return to his country? The reason was Union Carbide itself.

A few hours after the gas leak, the chemical plant’s chief medical officer, Dr. L. S. Loya, informed the government that the leaked gas was just an irritant and not fatal and, therefore, there wasn’t any need to panic. Union Carbide, until the very end, maintained its defense on the grounds that there wasn’t any cyanide poisoning in the air. At that time, very little was known about MIC or its effects on the human body, because of which Indian doctors and scientists failed to step in, while Union Carbide maintained its stance about the gas, calling it non-fatal. The reason for such lies was simple. If Union Carbide had accepted that they accidentally poisoned the air with cyanide, then they would be digging their own grave. But for the multinational corporation, murdering hundreds of people was okay in order to save themselves from criminal charges.

In the midst of such chaos, Max Daunderer arrived in Bhopal, where he conducted some preliminary blood tests on the victims with the help of Dr. Heeresh Chandra. Sodium thiosulfate is a proven antidote that is administered to patients suffering from acute cyanide poisoning. The patients who were given the drug showed overall improvement; however, the question that stood before them was: Are there any side effects of sodium thiosulfate? As per the reports, the local doctors confirmed there weren’t any short-term side effects, and at this point in time, there wasn’t any way to verify the long-term side effects. However, before the trials could begin, a person named Dr. Avashia, probably bribed or threatened by Union Carbide’s lawyers, barred the use of sodium thiosulfate, as it was a drug used to treat MIC poisoning. The doctor had assured the authorities that the gas leaked into the air wasn’t MIC. In the aftermath of such lies, Daunderer, who arrived with a considerable amount of antidote that could have saved hundreds of lives, was asked to leave the country on short notice. So, long story short, Union Carbide and its management didn’t want to accept that they had poisoned an entire city because of which they orchestrated such an intricate plan.

Even though the character of Mrs. Janglay doesn’t exist in real life, her meeting with Mirza, a representative of the UCC, may have some striking similarities with a few cases that happened with doctors, health professionals, and law enforcers in Bhopal. The company tried to bribe every person in power so that they could bury the facts about cyanide poisoning. It could be speculated that when Mirza failed to buy Janglay’s loyalty towards her country, he contacted the Railway Minister, who quickly sent Alex Braun away, just as Dr. Avashia did in real life. After Daunderer’s departure, the local doctors and other clinical staff decided to take matters into their own hands. They tried to voluntarily administer the antidote to the victims, but the government officials stopped them from doing so. Their clinics and houses were raided by the local police just because the people in power were afraid that the real truth would come to light. Every single person in the government machinery was bribed to the core. These pathetic men put their entire trust in a selfish corporate giant at a time when they should have been bothered about saving their own.

We strongly believe that the American corporation wasn’t the only party at fault, and the Indian government had a huge role to play in the entire tragedy. We understand that playing politics to get leverage in a situation is an inevitable facet of governance, be it any political party, but the question we ask here is to what extent one is ready to go for that. There was a time when there were leaders in this country who, while trying their level best to stay in power, also made sure that their actions didn’t erode public values and ensured that they were ethical in their approach. But the Bhopal gas tragedy made us aware that integrity, as a matter of fact, was a value that was long forgotten by our political leaders. As said earlier, the administration was scared that if the general public came to know that such a serious lapse in safety measures had happened and they had been so careless that they let the air get poisoned by cyanide, then it would prove to be disastrous for them. Imagine the plight of a victim when they would have come to know that the doctors were ready to help them, but they refrained from carrying out their duties because the power yielders didn’t want to lose their seats. A similar situation was seen during the pandemic when a majority of leaders tried to gain profit out of the adversity that the general public was dealing with. In the extremely competitive political environment of today, one mustn’t undermine the moral codes on which our democracy stands. Only if we had leaders who had the spine to accept their wrongdoings and if Max Daunderer hadn’t been stopped from doing his duty, a lot of lives would have been saved on that fateful day.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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