'Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain': Film Review

Courtesy of Revolver Entertainment
Arriving three decades after the fact, this docudrama doesn't quite do justice to its important subject

Martin Sheen plays Union Carbide executive Warren Anderson in this somewhat fictionalized depiction of the events leading up to the world's largest industrial disaster

The events leading up to the world's worst industrial disaster are dutifully recounted in Ravi Kumar's docudrama arriving three decades after the fact. Starring Martin Sheen as Union Carbide executive Warren Anderson, Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain never quite summons the necessary dramatic urgency, but it well conveys the conditions that precipitated event and the permissiveness accorded to multi-national corporations that will no doubt result in future such occurrences.

Advising us at the beginning that "certain cinematic liberties have been taken for dramatic effect," the film details the1984 tragedy from the perspectives of characters both real and fictional, concentrating on Dilip (Rajpal Yadav), a rickshaw driver struggling in poverty along with his wife Leela (Tannishtha Chatterjee). He believes that his fortunes have changed when he lands a job at the Union Carbide plant whose owners consider themselves beneficent for providing jobs to the local population. But he soon becomes aware that the plant's Indian managers, desperate to hold onto their positions, are seriously ignoring safety standards. The constant stench emanating from the plant making the local residents sick is but one warning sign of the disaster to come.

Other characters figuring prominently in the screenplay co-written by Kumar and David Brooks are Motwani (Kal Penn, in a marked departure from his Harold & Kumar comedies), a Bhopal newspaper reporter on a crusade to expose the factory's potentially disastrous conditions, and Eva Caulfield (Mischa Barton), a young American journalist who snares an up close and personal encounter with Anderson.

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Sheen, a prominent environmental activist, plays strongly against type as the cocksure, embattled CEO and manages to invest his performance with an intriguing complexity despite uttering such lines as "they have no one to blame but themselves" and "it's a third world country, they're always messy."

Filming in India, director Kumar invests the proceedings with a vividly realistic atmosphere, fully conveying the poverty-stricken conditions suffered by the town's desperate inhabitants. An early scene depicting several children venturing into a filthy pool of water is a chilling harbinger of things to come.

But despite the dramatic events on display, the film is surprisingly slack in its tension, although when the disastrous gas leak finally occurs, killing thousands of people overnight, it's conveyed with well-staged, suitably horrifying visuals.

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Before the credits unspool, we learn that Union Carbide, which never apologized for the tragedy, wound up paying some $470 million in compensation. It's an impressive sounding figure, until it's revealed that it amounts to a mere $2,000 per victim.

Production: Sahara One Media, Rising Star Entertainment
Cast: Martin Sheen, Kal Penn, Mischa Barton, Rajpal Yadav, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Fagun Thakrar
Director: Ravi Kumar
Screenwriters: Ravi Kumar, David Brooks
Producers: Seemanto Roy, Ravi Walia
Executive producers: Steve Clark-Hall, Terrance A. Sweeney, Leszek Burzynski, Sumant Pai, Patsy Santosham, Pinaki, Chatterjee, Michael Ryan
Directors of photography: Charlie Wuppermann, Anil Chandel
Production designers: Sukant Panigrahy, R. Ravindar
Editors: Chris Gill, Maria Valenta
Costume designer: Sujata Sharma
Composer: Benjamin Wall Fisch
Casting: Urvashi Chugani, Kelly Valentine Hendry, Pradeep Singrole

No rating, 96 min.