Washington: A new powerful movie reliving the Bhopal gas disaster that still haunts India has hit the US screens ahead of its 30th anniversary and its director says the recent death of then Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson "does not bring any relief to the victims".
Written and directed by Ravi Kumar, "Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain" focuses on the events leading up to the world's biggest industrial disaster as it intersects with the life of rickshaw puller Dilip (played by Rajpal Yadav), who gets a job at the Union Carbide plant to beat poverty.
"We decided to make a tense drama and the audience can now debate and search about the aftermath," said Kumar, who has spun the story of the tragedy that struck Bhopal on the night of Dec 3, 1984, into a fictionalised gripping industrial thriller. The disaster left over 3,000 people dead.
The lead-up and aftermath are "two separate areas and deserve a separate platform", Kumar told IANS in an email interview.
"I believe the aftermath equally tragic, is not dramatic enough to be told in a dramatic fashion."
Kumar, a doctor turned filmmaker who himself grew up as a child near Bhopal, said he chose to focus on the lead-up as "some excellent documentaries have been made on the aftermath and books have been written".
He believes the "time is right to make a film about the Bhopal disaster" as "30 years have gone by and so we have an emotional distance from the tragedy, in order to make an objective assessment of the disaster".
"At the same time, the story is recent enough and relevant enough to engage younger generations who would be interested to learn the lessons" and avoid more such disasters, said Kumar, pointing to the BP oil spill in the US in April 2010.
Veteran Hollywood actor Martin Sheen plays the role of Warren Anderson, the then chairman and CEO of the Union Carbide Corporation, who died in September while living as a fugitive from justice at Vero Beach, Florida.
Sheen, a multiple Emmy and Golden Globe winner who also featured in the Academy-winning film "Gandhi" with Ben Kingsley, "was our only choice given his political beliefs and his legendary status as an actor", Kumar told reporters.
Rather than portray Anderson as an outright villain, the film comes out showing him as a jovial capitalist more concerned about the company's bottom line and legal liabilities than the safety of the plant taking advantage of India's laxer regulations.
Yet "no one in the audience has come out of cinema feeling sympathetic about Anderson. Everyone thinks Anderson did a wrong thing", said Kumar.
"We did not want to patronise our audience by showing a one-dimensional villain who does bad things for no reason," he said. "We tried to give Anderson's character dimension and depth, so that the audience would get to know what he's thinking."
"In this way we believe the audience gets to make up their own mind," Kumar said. "Martin Sheen's sublime performance made the Anderson character come to life and made the film more believable."
Indian-American actor Kal Penn known for his roles in "Harold and Kumar" trilogy, plays a Bhopal journalist writing about the ticking 'time bomb' that no one wants to hear about as it gives the town a living.
"Kal Penn is an amazing actor who can sincerely play this outrageous character with a straight face," said Kumar. "He's perfect for the role."
London-born and New York-raised actress Mischa Barton, too "has done an amazing job playing a young reporter who's working for a life-style magazine who stumbles upon an impending chemical disaster but chooses to ignore it as she runs late for her deadline", he said.
The recent death of Anderson "does not bring any relief to the victims of Carbide disaster", said Kumar.
"It only proves that Union Carbide as a multinational needs to close this ongoing tragedy by apologising and cleaning up the plant that is still standing in the middle of Bhopal and contaminating the local water supply."
Released Nov 7 in one theatre in New York, the film was sold out on the opening night with New York Times and the New York Daily News giving it good reviews. It will now open in Los Angles Nov 14 plus additional US cities throughout November before releasing in India Dec 5.