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Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain review: Underwhelming!

Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain review: Underwhelming!

Source: General

By: Sonia Chopra

Critic's Rating: 3/5

Friday 05 December 2014

Movie Title

Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain review: Underwhelming!

Director

Ravi Kumar

Star Cast

Mischa Barton, Martin Sheen, Kal Penn, Rajpal Yadav

We all know what happened in Bhopal in 1984 - the Union Carbide plant at Bhopal, due to incompetent safety procedures, leaked lethal gas killing 10,000 people. It's been three decades since the biggest man-made industrial disaster in history. And the film, despite its best intentions, the film is unable to do justice to the incident and its magnitude.

The film begins with Union Carbide hiring locals for its new factory set in Bhopal. The "poor and dispossessed" people, as the film calls them, are relieved to find a source of income. One of them, Dilip (Rajpal Yadav), starts off as a daily wage worker and moves up the ranks by impressing the bosses. We see how the factory changes his life for the better, or so it appears.

But a freak accident at the factory exposes the danger they're dealing with. A single drop of the leaked MIC (the pesticide in the factory) kills a labourer, alerting local journalist Motwani (Kal Penn), who has been vehemently opposed to the company's incompetent safety practices.

The film shows us how the company has been slacking in terms of safety procedures. The air conditioner, a crucial element to maintain the chemical's temperature as per safety protocol, is shut down as it is considered "unnecessary expenditure". The warning alarm in the factory, that keeps going off from time to time, is muted completely. So, truly, as a character puts it, the factory was a sitting time-bomb waiting to explode.

Mischa Barton arrives as the gorgeous lifestyle journalist who befriends Motwani. Apart from the jibes aimed at her work (according to him only those who do hard-hitting stories are journalists), he persuades her to put her attention on the Union Carbide issue.

She argues, and after an unconvincingly quick heart-change, is then shown aggressively demanding an interview with the CEO of Union Carbide (Charlie Sheen). In the confusing exchange of words that follows, she accuses him of being worse than a politician, while he says their factory is actually doing the locals a favour by providing jobs, while also saving them from malaria (the pesticide kills bugs). Why she doesn't ask him for a direct explanation about the health hazards/safety concerns regarding the locals is a question mark. For that matter, no one broaches this topic strongly enough throughout the movie. Even when it's evident that employees are having health problems from working in the factory.

Everything is simplified, leaving no room for complexity. Even the newspaper headline that Motwani writes about the death of the employee is a simplistic line ? "Who killed him?" Motwani's character is hollow, and all we know about him is that he is inquisitive with a special fondness for shiny shirts. Even the collaboration between the Carbide top brass and politicians is oversimplified.

The scenes that depict the catastrophe and fatal repercussions that follow the gas leak are handled deftly. We see the clueless locals unbelieving at first, about the gas leak, and then falling prey to the deadly gas one by one. Adults, children, animals ? the film shows us the full scale of destruction, with bodies strewn across roads and railway tracks.

But what then? As an audience, we're keen to know Carbide's response and how the Indian government handled the situation (the company got away without even a trial). Instead, we're shifted abruptly to present time, and the movie ends with information of the paltry compensation that Union Carbide shelled out for the victims. There's no more information on the lives of those living in Bhopal right now, which seems odd, considering they're showing present time.

The background score uses Indian classical music, teaming it, as several Hollywood projects end up doing in their ignorance, with the most incongruous scenes. Like a rousing tabla piece used against a simple scene of Dilip playing with the neighbourhood kids!

Dialogue is dull for the most part, save a few shining conversation pieces, mostly Sheen's. Charlie Sheen is superb and his performance is particularly note-worthy in a few scenes. Like the one where he gives a pep talk to the Carbide employees, or where he's trying to have an interaction with a local kid despite the language barrier, asking him whether he should shut the company or not.

Director Ravi Kumar chooses the middle path, preferring to humanize the villain, rather than an outright black-and-white portrayal.

Rajpal Yadav is superb as the conflicted Dilip, torn between his loyalty towards the company and doing the right thing. Tannistha Chatterjee matches step as Dilip's wife. Despite the cast and solid performances, the film doesn't quite get it together. As is often the case, there is a yawning gap between the good intentions of a film, and the way it actually pans out!

Rating: 3 stars

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