Movie review: ‘Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain’; Director: Ravi Kumar; Cast: Martin Sheen, Kal Penn, Mischa Barton, Rajpaal Yadav, Tannishtha Chatterjee
‘Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain’ is a cautionary tale that blends drama and documentary to convey the magnitude of the devastation caused by the Union Carbide gas leak 30 years ago.
The narrative is not evenly gripping, but this 96-minute English-Hindi feature directed and co-written by UK-based Ravi Kumar is a much-needed enactment of the events that led up to the tragedy.
The man whose profligate risk-taking was principally responsible for the chemical leak, Union Carbide’s now-deceased Warren Anderson, was never brought to book and the suffering of the victims, who received laughably low compensation, is yet to end.
‘Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain’ juxtaposes the plight of an impoverished couple, Dilip and Leela (Raajpal Yadav and Tannishtha Chatterjee), with the goings-on inside the Union Carbide pesticide plant that spewed deadly methyl isocyanate gas into the Bhopal air in early December 1984, killing thousands in next to no time.
Dilip is a rickshaw-puller who struggles to make ends meet. So when he is hired for a menial job at the pesticide plant, the stroke of luck promises to alter his life.
Employment does improve his plight somewhat and he begins to prepare for the wedding of his only sister.
On the fateful night on which two families come together to celebrate the exchange of marital vows, the plant where Dilip works and where corners are routinely cut to ensure viability changes his life and the city in a way that he could not have imagined.
The key members of the ensemble cast, including the ever dependable Martin Sheen as Warren Anderson and Kal Penn as a tenacious local journalist Motwani, deliver nuanced performances, revealing the many facets of the two sides of the disturbing portrait.
While Anderson isn’t projected as a standard bad guy, he represents the face of corporate adventurism at its worst.
The investigative scribe on the other hand embodies the fight against industrial greed and governmental apathy in his determined attempts to expose Union Carbide’s violations of safety norms.
The makers have taken “certain cinematic liberties for dramatic effect”, but that approach works only occasionally.
Many of the characters and subplots pop in and out without any apparent purpose, as in the case of an American lifestyle reporter, Eva Caulfield (played by Mischa Barton), who arrives in Bhopal to write a feature on a descendant of Napoleon and ends up with an unplanned interview with Warren Anderson.
She pins down the corporate honcho and subjects him to an aggressive grilling, but the scene smacks more of laboured melodrama than authentic journalistic enthusiasm for the truth.
That, in a general sense, is the undoing of ‘Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain’.
The story at its heart is powerful enough to sustain itself without the aid of any dramatic buttressing.
But the film overdoes the latter, thereby adversely affecting the overall impact of the pressing theme that it addresses.
The film gathers steam when the disaster strikes, as one unsettling visual after another unfolds on the screen, providing a grim reminder of what unbridled pursuit of profit can do to mankind.
The message is as true today as it was three decades ago. And that is what makes ‘Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain’ essential viewing.