Richie Mehta, creator of International Emmy winning Netflix series “Delhi Crime,” has boarded veteran Indian producer Ronnie Screwvala’s series on the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, as writer, director and showrunner.
Screwvala, whose producer credits include “The Lunchbox” and “The Happening,” was formerly the head of Disney India and has several films in various stages of development and production.
Produced by Screwvala’s RSVP and Ramesh Krishnamoorthy’s Global One Studios, the series is based on Dominique Lapierre and Javier Moro’s 1997 book, “Five Past Midnight in Bhopal: The Epic Story of the World’s Deadliest Industrial Disaster,” detailing the disaster in 1984, when a cloud of toxic gas escaped from an American pesticide plant in the central Indian city of Bhopal and killed and injured thousands of people.
“The authors have done such a precise and fascinating job of mapping out the human story which creates a thread all through this disaster and is told in an impartial manner, which is very important to me as a storyteller to step back and allow the viewer to fill in that judgment, and in the case of something like this very harsh judgment, of course,” Mehta told Variety.
“I think the fact that it happened in the 1980s, it is starting to evaporate from the collective consciousness of young people,” said Mehta. “Many people don’t even know about it or they hear rumors of it in India and certainly internationally. And so I feel like it’s really important to get it out there in an impartial and extremely well-researched manner, which the authors have done.”
When the series was first announced, Screwvala had referenced “Chernobyl,” a gold standard for series about man-made disasters. “We’ve been looking at storytelling in very many different ways,” Screwvala told Variety. “I believe this for global audiences and not just Indian audiences overall more and more, especially because of OTT platforms, the mixture and the combination of great storytelling with a sense of realism and moving towards more inspired by true events based on a true story, actually has a lot more gravitas.”
The series is not yet signed up to a streaming or broadcast partner. “We want to be doing the development on our own because I think if you get into too much consensus view right in the beginning, then it becomes a bit of a challenge,” said Screwvala. “We’re quite happy that we want to develop this completely on our own, go with our own conviction and go to somebody who buys in into our vision rather than being a bit of a mishmash of everyone. Because the minute you get into development funding then it becomes just too many people in the room.”
India exists in a febrile political atmosphere these days with people quick to object to any content. Both Screwvala and Mehta point out that the Bhopal gas tragedy is an event in the public domain and the source material, the bestselling book, has been around since 1997, with an English-language edition published in 2001. The series will hew closely to the book.
The series, which is likely to consist of six to eight one-hour episodes, is in development and will commence production in early 2022. RSVP’s Sanaya Irani Zohrabi, Krishnamoorthy and Mehta will serve as executive producers. Shaun Mehta (“Amal”) is co-writing.
Meanwhile, Mehta is attached to direct a film adaptation of Abraham Verghese’s bestseller “Cutting for Stone,” for Bron Studios and Anonymous Content.
Screwvala’s film projects underway include “Pippa,” “Sitara,” “The Immortal Ashwatthama” and “Tejas.”