'Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain'
U; Drama-history
DIRECTOR: Ravi Kumar
CAST: Martin Sheen, Mischa Barton, Kal Penn, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Rajpal Yadav

A still from Ravi Kumar's 'Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain'
A still from Ravi Kumar's 'Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain'

Life comes pretty cheap in India. In what could be one of the most careless acts of humanity, on one cold night of December 1984, tonnes of poisonous gas were accidentally leaked by Union Carbide in Bhopal, resulting in the death of tens of thousands of lives. Three decades later, thanks partly to the callousness of the government and partly to the American company involved, the case is still unresolved, while Bhopal residents continue to suffer from the lingering after-effects of that deadly night.

Ravi Kumar, the director, chooses to tell the story of that night through Dilip (Rajpal Yadav), a rickshaw puller, who in a desperate bid to make ends meet, gets into Union Carbide as a daily wage worker. Local journalist Motwani (Kal Penn) can sense that all is not well with the company's safety norms, but he can not really put his finger on the real problem, till one of the workers in the company, who happened to be his best friend, dies of poisoning. The locals are so grateful for the jobs created by the company that they are blind to the dangerous situation they are forced to work in. Motwani isn't the only one who is desperately trying to be heard, there is a safety officer (Joy Sengupta) who keeps warning the supervisors about the dangers and largely goes unheard.

The company CEO, Warren Anderson (Martin Sheen) is an outwardly charming and kind man, but shrewd and cut-throat when it came to making crucial decisions. So, you have the lethal combination of a company whose CEO thinks 'third world countries are messy' and corrupt politicians who are more concerned about their vote banks than the safety of their people.

And then the inevitable happens.

Kudos to the director for picking a subject that even after three decades stays swept under the carpet. But unfortunately, the narration of this shameful and tragic true story is not as powerful as one would expect. Dilip's poverty and helplessness seems valid but thanks to Rajpal Yadav's hamming, most of it seems unconvincing and play-acting. Introduction of Mischa Burton (in a totally avoidable character) and an obvious ramp model as a mourning widow in the slums shows the director's intention of injecting this otherwise morbid story with a bit of forced glamour and that makes the narrative trite and disappointing. What's worse is that Kumar, obviously unaware of the actual life in a city like Bhopal, gets the unlikeliest characters to speak English and that along with jerky, disturbing camera movements, kills the flow of the film.

The second half is far more gripping and keeps you involved as you witness thousands of our helpless countrymen battling for survival during that dreadful night. We have all heard of the tragedy but watching it unspooling in front of your eyes is bound to disturb you — and also highlights the apathy of the government towards the safety of its citizens.