This December will mark the 30th anniversary of one of the most devastating industrial accidents in the world. Over 5,000 people died in the immediate aftermath of the methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leak at Union Carbide’s Bhopal pesticide factory in 1984 and hundreds of thousands more Indian citizens have continued to suffer from the toxic side effects of the MIC gas in the years since the catastrophe. Physician-turned-director Ravi Kumar’s film finally sheds light on this horrendous accident, and for the 96 minutes of Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain’s duration, I guarantee you won’t be able to take your eyes away from the screen.
The film opens in the office of Union Carbide Chairman, Warren Anderson (powerfully portrayed by Martin Sheen) where the sense of doom and air of mystery that cloud the rest of the movie quickly settle in. Leaving corporate America behind, the film’s story then shifts to flashbacks in India and the audience is introduced to the struggling population of Bhopal. Union Carbide factory worker Rakesh (Om Prakash) has no problem providing for his wife, while cycle rickshaw driver Dilip (Bollywood comedic favorite Rajpal Yadav in an unforgettable role) can barely provide his family with daily rations on his pitiful earnings.
But everything changes for Dilip and his wife Leela (Tannishtha Chatterjee) when he’s hired by the Union Carbide factory head. A new job, a steady income, a new life — all seems well until Rakesh suddenly dies after a workplace accident. This gives local journalist Motwani (Kal Penn in all his ‘stached glory) the push he needs to partner with an American journalist (Mischa Barton of The O.C. fame in a brief, yet powerful role) to further investigate the dangers brewing at Union Carbide. And thus ensues the movie’s enthralling tale of drama, intrigue, and ultimately, tragedy.
Dilip’s family and Rakesh’s widow serve as the human thread that weaves together this tale of corporate irresponsibility and workplace negligence all in pursuit of elusive profit. Not even a whistle-blowing journalist and dutiful safety officer stood a chance at stopping this accident of unimaginable proportions. Should we blame the seemingly smug Union Carbide Chairman Anderson? Should we blame the perpetually ignorant factory head? Should we blame the mysterious “rogue worker” that some claim is responsible for this disaster? Or should we blame the Indian government for not better protecting its citizens against such a potentially catastrophic endeavor?
The biggest strength of this movie lies in the way it allows the calamity to unravel before riveted eyes without directly placing blame on any of the above parties. Watch this movie ASAP. Then, do your own research, and try to come to your own conclusion about the Union Carbide Bhopal disaster. Regardless of your conclusions, you’ll have finally learned more about this tragedy and its countless victims — all of whom have been waiting 30 years for their story to be revealed to the world.
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Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain premiered in New York City on November 7, 2014. The film will release in Los Angeles on November 14, 2014 and in India on December 5, 2014.
Farah Naz Khan is an internal medicine resident at Emory University. After graduating from college in Boston, she returned to her Alabama hometown to attend medical school, and was reunited with the mix of Southern hospitality and South Asian culture that had shaped her childhood. Follow her on Twitter @farah287 or read some of her thoughts at farah287.blogspot.com.