30 years later, a film on Bhopal tragedy

  • Bhopal: A prayer for Rain releases in theaters on Friday
  • For the first time an Indian filmmaker attempted to make a film on the tragedy
  • Film was shot in Hyderabad with Indian and American actors

It is 30 years since the greatest industrial tragedy of our times struck. The gas leak from Union Carbide plant on December 2 and 3, 1984 that killed around 2000 people instantly, left countless birds, stray dogs and cattle dead on the roads and left its disastrous imprint on generations to come, in their bodies, the polluted land, water and air, remains an unforgettable example of American corporate greed and Indian government’s shameful act of letting the culprits go scot free. A 1994 report of government-run Indian Council of Medical Research put the toll at 25,000. Yet the victims are yet to get their due. As the years go by the fight increasingly looks futile and the recent death of the former boss of Union Carbide only makes it worse. When Anderson died in a nursing home at the age of 96, on September 29, this year, some activists and survivors celebrated in Bhopal.

There have been documentaries made on the disaster. However, for the first time since tragedy struck Bhopal in the form of the dangerous Methyl Isocyanate, Indian director Ravi Kumar embarked upon making a mainstream film ‘Bhopal; A Prayer for Rain’. The film was made on limited budget, but with good technical crew including Emmy-nominated composer Benjamin Wallfisch who gave the soundtrack and a stellar cast of Indian and American actors, including Martin Sheen in the role of the infamous chief executive, Warren Anderson and National Award winner Rajpal Yadav as one of the workers who notices the gross negligence of safety standards in the fertiliser factory but chooses to keep quiet to save his job. Mischa Barton plays the role of a foreign reporter who helps an Indian tabloid journalist (the American actor Kal Penn who also acted in ‘Name Sake’) protest the pesticide plant in the middle of the city, the film was shot in Hyderabad.

While shooting for the film, Kumar maintained “a certain emotional distance from the tragedy”, helping him to objectively assess the events as they unfolded, he shared. But the facts he unearthed in the process shocked him. “The city ran out of coffins,” he says. With people still suffering in Bhopal, the film has not lost its relevance. “Bhopal is as relevant as ever, given the fact that most industrial disasters have a similar chain of events leading to a perfect storm – negligence, cost-cutting, a foreign land and a lack of corporate ­governance. As filmmakers we have a moral responsibility to tell real stories,” Ravi said in an interview.

The film released in Indian theaters on Friday. The film did take some cinematic liberties and in doing so may have lost in the intensity needed to show a disaster of such large scale, opined many reviewers. Ravi Kumar is not scared of showing India’s underbelly while pointing a finger at American arrogance in dealing with this shameful incident. The screenplay is where the movie fails. It could have been a more involving story…Bhopal A Prayer For Rain is a must-watch, for the sheer gravity of the criminal incident that remains unresolved three decades after it occurred. (Hindustan Times)

The fact that until now no film maker has even attempted to make a film on such an important event that affected thousands of lives makes Ravi Kumar’s attempt all the more worthy of laurels.

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