Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Movie Review: Bhopal - A Prayer For Rain

A poignant retelling of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, a sombre reminder of government's indifference

Runtime: 1 hr 36 min
Language: English
Director: Ravi Kumar
Rajpal Yadav, Martin Sheen, Kal Penn, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Joy Sengupta, Mischa Barton

Bhopal - A Prayer for Rain is emotionally overwhelming. It's one thing to read about the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and quite another to see the dramatized version of the catastrophe unfold in front of your eyes. The film is a poignant retelling of the events leading up to one of the world's worst industrial disasters, when over 40 tonnes of lethal methyl isocyanate (MIC) leaked from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, leaving more than 10, 000 dead and thousands maimed.

A scene from the film
Photo Credit: Bernard Coughlan/Film website
Bhopal's devastating true story is brought on screen through the fictional character of Dilip, a rickshaw puller (played brilliantly by Rajpal Yadav) who lands himself a job at the Union Carbide plant, despite not being qualified for the role. He cannot thank his stars enough, for this job will not only give him a chance to make ends meet but also save up enough for his sister's marriage. Only he cannot see the writing on the wall - there's been no rain and the farmers don't need the pesticide that the plant produces. The demand for pesticide has declined, and so the company is cutting corners to save up on the cost of running the plant. There are warnings that the plant is a ticking time bomb and going easy on safety measures will prove fatal. But neither Warren Anderson (splendidly portrayed by Martin Sheen), the CEO of Union Carbide, nor our well fed, and well bribed politicians give two hoots about the warnings and it's implications on the lives of the over flowing 'Third-World' junta.

While the people who matter turn a blind eye to the danger that the Carbide plant poses, Motwani, a local journalist (played by Kal Penn) doggedly goes about his efforts at exposing the safety irregularities there. But given Motwani's penchant for 'tabloidesque' journalism, nobody pays any heed to his stories about the 'disaster-in-the-making' Carbide plant. So when the disaster eventually strikes one ill-fated night, it's too late for the neighbouring slum dwellers to attempt an escape. Thousands die writhing in pain, out on the streets and in the government hospital, while the doctors figure out the antidote for the poisonous gas. Those who survive are in for a fate worse than dying, for their lives are wrecked forever. Maimed by the deadly gas, they are left in the hands of a callous and corrupt government that goes all out to protect CEO Anderson, who on his part refuses to take accountability for the disaster.

The films ends with a montage of the dilapidated Union Carbide Plant in Bhopal, abandoned, but still a nightmare for those living around it. The end credits enlightens the audience about how 'Union Carbide has never apologised' and that it offered 'only $2,000' compensation per victim. Presented as a docu-drama, Bhopal - A Prayer for Rain is grim and hard hitting. Both Rajpal Yadav and Martin Sheen are remarkable in their respective roles as the country simpleton and the hard-nosed firang industrialist, and outshine the rest. The other actors too gel well with the film, but for Kal Penn, whose heavily accented Hindi makes him look the odd one out in the ensemble cast. 

The film's worldwide release on 5th December marked the 30th anniversary of the tragedy. Unfortunately, 30 years on, the deaths from this man-made disaster still stand devalued. Bhopal continues to suffer from the after-effects of MIC poisoning, and the families of the victims still await justice and compensation. Apathy remains the only constant in their lives - from then to now.


  1. Amazing review. Bhopal gas Tragedy continues to bring an anger in me - due to the callousness of the company and the uselessness of the Indian government. I am glad this film has been made 30 years down the line so that people do not forget and hopefully the government, for once, learns something from history.


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  3. A nice crisp review Ragini. It is undoubtedly the worst industrial disaster India has seen and the effects are far reaching even today. This movie has certainly raked my interest.

    Something I thought would really help is a rating which would help us decide better on the movie. I love the star cast and I am pretty sure they have done a great job at it. But a numbered rating would definitely help for the numerically challenged like me :D