There are bad films and good films; there are films that makes one wonder if the creators had any sense and films that make you crave for more; there are films that you should steer clear of and there are films that must be watched……Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain is in the last category.

Most of us know about the Bhopal gas tragedy. Considered the world’s worst industrial disaster, the leakage of super toxic gas from the Union Carbide factory on the night of 2-3 December 1984 exposed over 500,000 people to methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and other chemicals. This gas spread around the shanties located near the plant. Estimates vary on the death toll. The official immediate death toll was 2,259. The government of Madhya Pradesh confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. A government affidavit in 2006 stated the leak caused 558,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary partial injuries and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries. (Source: Wikipedia)

The film traces the footsteps of this tragedy through the eyes and life of Dilip (Rajpal Yadav). A rickshaw puller in jobless Bhopal, who’s vehicle has reached pensionable stage; Dilip does not know how to earn enough money to feed his family, consisting of his wife Leela (Tannishtha Chatterjee), sister and young son. His wife’s tears and taunts haunt him till the day he manages to get picked over a crowd of hopefuls to land a job in the Union Carbide factory. This plant that manufactured pesticides was a massive structure in the small city. The lucky ones who worked there were paid well and often objects of envy to those less fortunate. Dilip’s rise within the rank happens at the cost of his friend and neighbour who dies when a drop of toxic liquid falls on his arm. Dilip feels for him, but squashes his pangs of conscience and continues to work to the best of his capacity. The floor supervisor, a man busy cutting costs, tells the (mostly illiterate and unskilled) workers to do as he asks, regardless of the probably outcome. The management, headed by Warren Andersen (Martin Sheen), a man who had a vision of changing the lives of people in the third world, just want their products to sell. But in rain starved Bhopal, the fields lie semi barren and farmers do not line up to buy pesticide. And the workers are asked to pray for rain. The only people who feel that all is not well and the factory is a bomb waiting to explode are Motwani (Kal Penn), a local journalist who suspects that the high walls of the factory hide secrets and Roy (Joy Sengupta), the safety officer who constantly questions the lack of safety measures within the plant. Motwani runs into Eva (Mischa Barton), a lifestyle journalist and somehow convinces her to grab some interview time with Andersen during his visit to Bhopal. She manages some time with Andersen alone, thanks to her American origin and begins to suspect that there is more behind his amiable demeanour, but has to return to Paris as her assignment in the city gets over.

The tragedy occurs on the night of Dilip’s sisters wedding. Roy resigns when he realizes he is powerless to change things and you know this is a sign of things going terribly wrong. The celebrations are in full swing when a regular process of cleaning the pipes within the factory goes awry setting off a series of events that forever changed the history of Bhopal and its residents. Dr. Chandra (Manoj Joshi) and his nurses do not have enough medication to tend to the hundreds and thousands who throng the hospital through the night. The film clearly depicts how Union Carbide flouted essential safety precautions, resulting in the leak. 40 tonnes of lethal chemicals were stored in the premises where the official limit is supposed to 2 tonnes. The callousness towards lives in the third world comes out clearly as does the Indian political muscle behind Andersen. Interestingly, the director has made an effort to show Andersen as a human being and not just a greedy capitalist.

The performances range from fabulous to mediocre. Martin Sheen steals the show every time he comes on screen. His legendary charisma draws you in so much that you actually feel for Andersen the visionary who had the guts to set up a huge factory in a third world country despite the stiffest opposition and even ridicule. Rajpal Yadav is very believable as Dilip, though he does try too hard at times. Tannishtha , a super competent actress, does not really have much to do, pity that! Kal Penn who occupies a fair amount of screen space could have been a lot better as Motwani. I believe an Indian actor would have done a much better job of this role! Joy Sengupta is very good in his portrayal of Roy, the honest and upright safety officer who tries very hard to ensure that things go according to plan. Mischa Barton is surprisingly believable in her role as a journalist who gets drawn to the mystery behind the factory. Manoj Joshi as Dr. Chandra is alright but does not really do justice to his acting talent. Satish Kaushik has a blink and miss role as the local minister, wish we could see more of him!

There are many poignant moments and interesting characters in the film that will stay with you long after you exit the theatre. However, there are also some very superfluous ones. The worst of them being the character of Rekha, the wife and later widow of the friend, who’s supervisory role Dilip takes over. The character is introduced patchily and later shown clad in a white sari with a bright red border, the American version of the widow in an Indian shanty! More the pity since this character could have been used wonderfully, a live Banquo’s ghost maybe!

Is it an epic; a faultless film that will amaze us, you might rightfully ask. The answer is negative. It is not an epic film and if you were to count, there would be quite a few faults. But the story rises above the faults of the movie and manages to engulf you and touch a chord deep within. Even when we know what happened in Bhopal 30 years ago, the movie sucks us into the heart of the disaster and leaves us both saddened and angry. I could feel my heart in my mouth watching the scene where the director cuts between the wedding celebrations in the slum which was Dilip’s home and the unfolding horror in the factory next door. And that ladies and gentlemen is why this film needs to be watched.

You can watch the trailer of Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain on YouTube…..

Copyright © Taraa Vermaa Senguptaa December 2014
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