They say all you get from love is a love song. Disasters, man-made or otherwise, too can face a similar destiny. All we really get from disasters are disaster movies. Some that shake and stir. Others that move and change lives.
Ravi Kumar’s melodramatic recreation of the Bhopal gas tragedy, said to be the worst industrial disaster in the history of civilization, has an instant and lasting chemical reaction.
While familiarising new generations with the enormity of the calamity which claimed and maimed thousands of lives during one December night in 1984, the short and slick film also puts forward the theory of arrogant hegemony practised by US on poor countries.
There are portions of the narrative where we watch the proceedings with a feeling of dread and stupefying horror. The ironical logistics of making a quaint Indian city a dumping ground for the American Dream, is not lost on us. The narrative never slackens. Its vice-like grip on the moral dilemma of a town stricken by a desperate economic recession.
The director laces the dialogues between Union Carbide personnel (white and brown skinned) and the unsuspecting naive workers, with dollops barbed cynicism. The dialogues are strongly redolent of the stench that imperialistic forces spread in the Third World.
Yet ironically, this film depicts the small-city India that the Westerners who adored ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ love to gaze at: a kindly Chaplinesque rickshaw-wallah (Raajpal Yadav) and his doting wife (Tannishtha Chatterjee),a wedding in their family juxtaposed with the disaster striking the town ....a slimy journalist (Kal Penn, in excellent form) who discovers unplumbed depths of integrity during the crisis, a pretty foreigner journalist (Mischa Barton, role unfinished), adorable little peasants running around doing errands for the privileged classes....It’s all there, packaged in a glorious display of wealth stealth and exploitation.
While the performances are uniformly convincing, with true actors like Raajpal, Tannishtha, Kal Penn, Fagun Thakrer, Joy Sengupta and Vinit Kumar blending fluently into the bleeding fabric, it’s Martin Sheen who towers above the entire cast. He brings to his role of the Carbide killer elements of motivational integrity that make the monster humane yet unpardonable.
The film is at times deeply engaging in its exposition on nature and human avarice. The characters form an integral part of the narrative. If anything, you wish they would get more space to grow in the plot. Director Ravi Kumar hurls forward in the quest of a closure to a story that defies all culmination.
‘Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain’ leaves us with feeling of a deep longing for the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, and for the victims of imperialism anywhere at any time.
Come to think of it, while the victims of the tragedy in Bhopal await justice, the only good thing to come out of the tragedy is this haunting dramatic film. Not to be missed.
Subhash K. Jha/ IANS