You can’t grow up in India & not know about the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. It something we learnt about in school & we knew all the facts – the year in which it occurred (1984), the company responsible for the gas leak (Union Carbide) & the approximate death toll. And of course, you always see human interest stories in papers & magazines about the survivors & descendants still having very serious health problems. But having been born eight years after the incident, I can’t say I had ever spent too much time reflecting on it.
When I got to know that a historical drama was being made on the Bhopal Disaster, I was definitely interested in watching it. Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain is an historical-drama film set amidst the real-life Bhopal disaster that had occurred in India on December 2–3, 1984. It stars Martin Sheen, Mischa Barton, Kal Penn, Rajpal Yadav, Tannishtha Chatterjee, and Fagun Thakrar among others. Director Ravi Kumar described it as “a dramatization, inspired by real events”.
Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain is a visual treat, with lovely landscapes shots & saturated colors, especially in the first half of the film & the background score (composed by Benjamin Wallfisch) too adds to the experience. The slum depicted looks beautiful & full of life. The first half of the film deals with everything leading up to the disaster (such as the drought, alluded to in the title) & the second half deals with the gas leak itself & it’s immediate aftermath.
This film has quite a few actors who are usually well known for their comedic performances essaying dramatic roles like Rajpal Yadav, Kal Penn, Manoj Joshi & Satish Kaushik who were all quite splendid, especially Rajpal Yadav & Manoj Joshi. I thought Martin Sheen was quite brilliant as Warren Anderson, it would have been so easy to portray him as a one dimensional villain, but instead we see him as a real, albeit very flawed human being, he is very quick to pass the buck for any problem or wrongdoing & yet it seems that he sincerely believes he is doing it for the good of the Indian populace as well. I only found Mischa Barton’s ‘cameo’ to be quite pointless, it did very little to further the plot & felt like it was just there to add a white female to the film.
The second half of the film gets understandably dark, I respect the director for not glossing things over but instead showing the stark reality of how things unfolded after the gas leak. It is quite disturbing at times, but it paints a vivid picture.
Overall, it manages to weave in quite a story, we see the everyday lives of the common men in the slum, the conditions in which they lived & the circumstances that lead them to work for Union Carbide, & of course the ignorant, arrogant American executives who are quick to exploit the third world nations for cheap labor & corrupt governance and even quicker to hide behind western law when something goes wrong. It’s both astounding & infuriating when you get to know that not only did Warren Anderson never face any serious consequences for his actions, but Union Carbide or Dow Jones who later bought the company still maintain that it was a case of sabotage by a disgruntled local worker & have not apologised till date.
I don’t watch Bollywood films often, & when I heard director Ravi Kumar describe this as a dramatization, I was nervous that it would get the Mary Kom or Slumdog Millionaire Bollywood masala treatment, with over the top melodrama and interwoven song & dance sequences but I was wrong & I’m glad. It is a great vehicle to introduce the younger generation to the calamity that befell the country almost exactly 30 years ago & it will bring a renewed voice to the survivors & descendants of the disaster. Either way, it’s not a waste of your time & if you watch just one Hindi film in 2014, let it be this one.
The film opens in theatres on the 5th of December & you can find more information about on their website.