It’s been some time since the Soviet drama based on the real Nuclear tragedy of the 1980s created a roar online with its strong imagery and retelling of the disaster through the eyes of a few characters. Chernobyl on Hotstar is definitely one of the best series’ of the year as it combines real events with effective narrative onscreen to evoke a certain doomsday feeling even when the audience is aware of the disaster being 3 decades old.
The series begins with a man called Valery Legasov (Jared Harris), deputy director of Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy, recording tapes with his confessions about the RBMK Reactor 4 involved in the Chernobyl Disaster and committing suicide minutes later. The tone set at the beginning of the episode will haunt you throughout the series. We are later taken into the bedroom of a firefighter Vasily Ignatenko (Adam Nagaitis) and his wife Lyudmilla Ignatenko (Jessie Buckley) who are yet to know about their devastating future. Just as you feel the calm before the storm, there is a huge explosion in one of the Reactor buildings with the blue smoke glowing high above the air which we later understand is ionized air glow.
Created and written by Craig Mazin, Chernobyl is a 5-episode mini-series that takes us through the events leading up to the fateful night in April 1986 near Pripyat (a ghost town now) in Northern Ukraine and the after-effects of the incident that were felt as far as Norway. Incredible acting and top-notch direction make the events come to life and through all the 5 episodes, there won’t be a moment you won’t feel shocked and distressed at this man-made disaster.
Soon, the firefighters reach the building unaware of the dangers lying in the debris in the form of radioactive and highly contaminated Graphite. One of the most depressing scenarios is how Anatoly Dyatlov (Paul Ritter), the Deputy Engineer of the entire Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, along with his comrades’ chief engineer Nikolai Fomin and Manager of the Facility Viktor Bryukhanov try to cover up the incident as a minor accident and thus let the disaster multiply in intensity and after effects by the time the clean up is carried out. Apart from that, even the sham of national pride and egocentrism is disgusting, to say the least.
It is only when Valery Legasov and Boris Scherbina, who is the deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers, head towards the disaster venue, do the actual magnitude and seriousness of the issue is understood. In the latter part of the series, a number of sacrifices made by several unsung heroes are depicted. Be it the trio of volunteers who agree to drain the basement in order to prevent a lethal steam explosion or the team of Tula miners who work naked in extreme heat to create a tunnel for a heat exchanger. There is also one scene where Legasov hesitantly asks for human robots to clear the roof debris where chances of dying are almost above 90%.
One of the creative liberties taken by the makers of the show is to introduce the character of Ulana Khomyuk (Emily Watson), a nuclear physicist from Minsk, who represents the several scientists involved in the remedial work post the disaster. All the efforts of all the characters come down to one truth – the grave cost of bureaucratic politics and a cover-up of the design flaws with the RBMK Reactor. However, we later come to know how this one incident makes the Russian Government fix the flaws in the other RBMK Nuclear reactors thus saving the future of the world at large and not just Russia or the European continent.
It wouldn’t make much sense if I tell you the secret cause behind the worst nuclear disaster our world has ever seen if you don’t have a clue about it. The force with which it will hit you will be too strong. The last episode is especially eye-opening and also beautifully explains the working of the nuclear reactors and the technological as well as human flaws that led to it. This excerpt from one of the books written on the tragedy would help you understand the gravity of the issue and the Apocalypse we were near to.
“..if the other three reactors of the Chernobyl power plant had been damaged by the explosion of the first, then hardly any living and breathing organisms would have remained on the planet” – Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy
A must watch, Chernobyl is definitely something that will affect everyone. I would recommend you to start watching it now if you haven’t already.