Reliving the tragedy

Reliving the tragedy

Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain
English (U) ¬¬¬
Cast: Martin Sheen, Kal Penn, Rajpal Yadav, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Mischa Barton, Joy Sengupta, Vineet Kumar
Director: Ravi Kumar

A three-decade-old disaster that has almost been forgotten, as India leapfrogged from third world to near first world, gets a fresh perspective from director and co-screen writer Ravi Kumar who fuses documentary and fiction in Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain.

Seen from the eyes of a fictional Dilip (played well by Yadav), a poor rickshaw driver, who gets hired as a sack lifter in Bhopal’s Union Carbide factory, after the mysterious demise of a worker, Dilip eventually is promoted as maintenance gauge-watcher. For a semi-illiterate Dilip, it’s an opportunity to support his wife, Leela (Chatterjee) as well as pay his sister’s dowry.

Motwani (Penn), a reporter, based on the real-life Raaj Kumar Keswani, through his articles and killer headlines attempts to sound the warning bells that all isn’t right at the plant which manufactures methyl isocyanate (MIC). He even compels Eva (Barton), a foreign journalist, to challenge a visiting Warren Anderson (Sheen) on how safe the plant really is. Motwani only ends up as the “boy that cried wolf”.

Ravi Kumar’s first feature film offers a compelling background of how big bucks from foreign corporations are important for a developing country, even at the expense of safety.

Sheen is exceptional as the late Anderson, a proud businessman who takes pride in bringing jobs to the developed world, and who has only profits in his head. Anderson is shown as human, treating Dilip as a equal and in his interaction with a kid. Penn, with his thick Indian accent, makes for the impeccable journalist.

Yadav is a delight in his role as the small-town bumpkin. Barton gets a limited role, it looks as if she was added simply to gain access to Anderson. Her brief interview with Anderson in a moving Ambassador is one of the film’s highlights. There are notable performances from Sengupta, who plays Roy, a junior engineer who quits when he realises his boss Choudary (Kumar) would go the extra mile to please the firang bosses.

Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain moves at a good pace, however, a little sub-titling for heavily Hindi accented scenes would have helped. The film plays safe, hinting that corruption, carelessness and limited resources were key factors for the tragedy.

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