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“Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain” is a historical film directed by Indian filmmaker Ravi Kumar. Co-written by David Brooks and Kumar himself, the movie presents a highly dramatized version of the events that had led to the Bhopal disaster, often referred to as the Bhopal gas tragedy, on the night of 2–3 December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in Bhopal, the capital of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. The disaster was caused by the accidental leakage of methyl isocyanate gas and other toxic chemicals which spread around the shanty towns located near the plant threatening lives of lakhs and killing thousands. The movie stars Martin Sheen, Mischa Barton, Kal Penn, Rajpal Yadav, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Manoj Joshi and Joy Sengupta in the major roles. The movie is produced by Sahara Movie Studios and Rising Star Entertainment and distributed by Revolver Entertainment. The movie is slotted to release on 5 December 2014 in theatres across India.
“Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain” succeeds in capturing brilliantly, through its motley of interesting characters, the chaos that became associated with one of the greatest tragedies in modern history. The movie serves as a powerful social commentary that poignantly depicts the plight of the poor in Third World countries like India during the latter part of the 20th century. These countries generally suffered from lack of industrialization, extremely low per capita incomes, low literacy rates, high population growth, poor health and sanitation facilities, weak transport infrastructure, and overdependence on agriculture and allied activities. “Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain”. The movie also launches a scathing attack on crony capitalism—a notorious brand of capitalism prevalent in Asian countries wherein success in business depends on the nexus between opportunistic businessmen and corrupt government officials.
Despite going down in the annals of history as one of the major disasters of the 20th century, Bhopal gas tragedy strangely enough hadn’t hitherto managed to become the subject of any major motion picture. And, that’s precisely what inspired Ravi Kumar to make a movie on the seemingly forbidden subject. Kumar explains: “To my surprise there was little interest from Bollywood or even UK film industry to make a dramatic thriller about a subject with tremendous potential about corporate greed, environment disaster and the spicy mix of politics and multinational giant’s profit driven agenda.” Kumar got the idea for the movie from Mr. Sanjoy Hazarika’s book “Bhopal - Lessons Of A Gas Tragedy,” which he had read in 2005. After reading the book, Kumar was bowled over by the thought of a making a major motion picture on the subject. Kumar asserts: “The reason for making this film is not to play the blame game, but learn from history so another tragedy can be avoided. We wanted to make an international feature film with major stars for the world audience who do not know about the tragedy.”
“Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain” has come as a great respite at a time when the element of realism is on the wane in Indian cinema at large. The movie serves as a great example of how the power of cinema can be leveraged upon to bring important historical events back to life for the older generations to relive them and for the coming generations to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. History as a genre is still quite new to the India cinema and a lot needs to be done before it starts getting treated like some of the more conventional genres. The movie is far from being a perfect adaptation of the Bhopal gas tragedy. While the movie captures the essence of the tragedy really well, the narrative, at times, seems to suffer from certain structural flaws. In the act of dramatizing the events so as to make the end product appear more palatable to the masala audiences, the movie, more often than not, appears to be digressing a bit from its central theme.
Overall, “Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain” can best be described as an honest attempt on the part of its makers to capture on the celluloid the chaos associated with the Bhopal gas tragedy. Despite commercial obligations, and, to its credit, the movie doesn’t deviate much from propagating the hard facts pertaining to the mishap. As a socio-economic commentary on India of the 1980s, the movie packs a powerful punch. On the technical front, there isn’t much to complain about: be it cinematography, sound, or editing. The acting is solid all around, thanks to the presence of an international ensemble cast led by the veteran American actor Martin Sheen and renowned Indian actor Rajpal Yadav. Both Sheen and Yadav are excellent in their respective roles, as are Mischa Barton, Kal Penn, and Tannishtha Chatterjee. The movie features some highly graphic sequences towards the end which may repulse the faint-hearted viewers. The movie is meant for serious filmgoers only; the casual viewers are advised to stay away from it. It’s a must watch for those who admire realism in cinema!
(This review was first published at A Potpiurri of Vestiges)