*dosimeter clicking rapidly*
I just finished watching ‘Chernobyl’, the 5-part mini-series; and more than anything, what’s bothering me is the clicking noise of the dosimeter (a device used to measure external ionic radiation, seen almost throughout the course of the series). Written (and created) by Craig Mazin and directed by Johan Renck, ‘Chernobyl’ recounts the events that led to the greatest nuclear disaster in history (by far!) and its aftermath. Presented in pure docu-drama fashion, ‘Chernobyl’ does not hold much back, truly making you feel for everyone involved in the disaster.
I’ve never been someone fascinated by tv shows/series. That doesn’t mean I’ve never given it a try at all. I remember watching the first season of ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Sherlock’, but I was bothered by the overall slowness of proceedings and gave up soon after. I wanted crisper storytelling; I wanted the story to have a beginning and an end in an hour or two; I wanted things to unfold rather quickly. In short, I preferred films over tv shows for this very reason. While I’d appreciate ambiguity to a certain extent in films, cliffhanger-endings for shows left me exacerbated. Initially, I was sceptical about watching ‘Chernobyl’ too. But it had a few things going for it, in my opinion.
Firstly, it was not a tv series in the conventional sense of it. ‘Chernobyl’ was only going to last a single season, with a total run-time of around 5.5 hours. Secondly, it had already been a month since it aired on tv and received acclaim. Not one person I knew had anything critical to say about it. Thirdly, I’ve always liked medical thrillers. What coaxed me to check out ‘Chernobyl’ was in fact, the Malayalam movie ‘Virus’. I had very recently watched ‘Virus’ in the theatre and thought it was brilliantly made, with a compelling storyline to boot (that of the ‘Nipah virus’ incident which took place in the state of Kerala in 2018 and claimed the lives of 17 people).
Some of my favourite medical thrillers include the Steven Soderbergh directorials ‘Contagion’ and ‘Side Effects’, Wolfgang Pietersen-Dustin Hoffman’s ‘Outbreak’, and Andrew Davis-Harrison Ford’s ‘The Fugitive’ (which was more of a full-blown actioner). ‘Chernobyl’, in its 5+ hour runtime, was in no haste to wind up its story. Creator Craig Mazin clearly wanted viewers to go through every bit of what the residents of Chernobyl and Pripyat, the 400+ miners who were called into to work at the sabotaged reactor, the firefighters who unwittingly exposed themselves to radioactive material, and all of the scientists involved in averting further catastrophe, was subjected to.
The protagonists (played by Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, and Emily Watson) seemed to have been chosen carefully – hailing from different spheres of work, they are called in to deal with the after-effects of the nuclear disaster and though not fond of each other’s attitudes initially, fight against lies told to the world about the disaster in an extremely moving courtroom scene in the fifth and final episode. ‘Chernobyl’ built its key characters up superbly. Each time Jared Harris’ Legasov exclaims how uneasy life is going to be for everyone involved at the site of the explosion or its radioactive surroundings, it’s difficult not to flinch. Because every word he says is nothing but the hard-hitting truth, and ‘Chernobyl’ is more or less, an apt depiction of it. Emily Watson’s Ulana Khomyuk is adamant on letting the whole world know what’s up, even if it puts her country in a bad light. Skarsgård’s Scherbina is trying to stay politically correct for the most part, until he sees through the underwhelming efforts put in by the people he’d been backing.
While ‘Virus’ was a thrilling account of a rapidly-expanding, still-mysterious viral epidemic, ‘Chernobyl’ covers the 1986 nuclear disaster from every possible perspective. There are smaller stories in ‘Chernobyl’ that leave just as big an impact that the bigger ones. Lyudmilla Ignatenko, the concerned (and pregnant) wife of fire-fighter Vasily Ignatenko gets an eerie feeling the moment she witnesses the explosion through her apartment window. The heart-wrenching scenes where she’s with her dying husband at the hospital are sure to strike a chord with anyone who has seen ‘Virus’ (and vividly recall the scenes between Abid/Sara and Vishnu/Anjali). One of the episodes also sees officer Pavel, a new recruit, who has been tasked with hunting down radioactive animals in the area along with two others. It’s the presence of these smaller yet poignantly written characters that keep us on the edge at all times.
Also, immediately after finishing the series, I felt the urge to look up the disaster and read about it in detail. It made me want to visit the place at some point. 33 years later, part of Chernobyl has been opened up for tourism purposes (again, with strict precautions). I’m sure that if I ever happen to visit, the sound of the dosimeter clicking rapidly is certainly going to play in my head. That’s the kind of effect the show has had on me. Plus, it might have just (unintentionally) revived my interest in tv shows (of a thriller nature, preferably) somewhat.