Tomorrow, November 7th, “Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain,” officially releases in theaters in NY. It will release in other cities throughout the month, and will release in India December 5. I had a chance to view the film prior to the release date, and have provided you below with all you need to know regarding the film – the parts that worked, the parts that didn’t, and what the overall impact was! Read on for all the details.
The trailer for “Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain” has been doing rounds for a while, and it seemed that perhaps this time, India will have a film that will resonate well around the world. However, the film, despite its production length (around 1.5 hours) and impressive star cast (Martin Sheen, Misha Barton, Kal Penn), for the most part falls flat. The film revolves around the Union Carbide Bhopal gas tragedy that occurred in 1984 in India, but the real tragedy for “Bhopal” is the lack of a gripping story-line! Still, for those who love documentaries, the film is worth a watch. However, don’t expect to get any closure on the Bhopal incident as the film merely presents a basic overview of the tragedy without trying to pinpoint a single wrong party.
When viewing the trailer, it seems like this film has all the gloss, quality, and suspense of a Hollywood thriller. Unfortunately, the full film itself is unfocused, and time is wasted over segments that ultimately do not impact or contribute to the story. The film has two stories that work in tandem to convey the story of the Bhopal disaster – one is the story of Dilip (played by Rajpal Yadav), a rickshaw driver who lands a job at the Union Carbide plant, and the other story, focuses on Dilip’s long time friend, Motwani (played by Kal Penn), a tabloid journalist who wants to uncover the truth and expose the Bhopal plant as being the cause for Bhopal residents complaints of stench in the air and choking from the gas at night.
Rajpal Yadav and Kal Penn both are most known on screen for their comic roles. Yadav has been seen as a comic sidekick in many Bollywood films, while Penn is known best as stoner Kumar from the cult classic “Harold and Kumar” films. Penn truly shines in this role as he plays a very subdued and serious role. When he first speaks his lines with an Indian accent, it is surprising because we are used to his unique American accent and style of speaking. However, he has completely immersed himself in the role and truly stands out. Yadav too does justice to his role, but for some reason, the character doesn’t draw in the audience emotionally despite Yadav’s efforts. The fault lies in the script and not with Yadav.
Penn’s character, a journalist, encounters Eva (played by Mischa Barton), an American journalist, whom he persuades to confront Carbide executive Warren Anderson to expose the safety flaws. The role she has is so limited and barely adds anything to the plot. When her character leaves for the US again, no one really misses it as it is such a poorly etched out character. Barton herself barely seems interested in her character. We’ve seen her act much better in other television and film ventures.
Martin Sheen is well cast as Warren Anderson, and manages to humanize the character. However, for those who are hoping more light will be shed on Anderson’s perspective and flaws in the disaster, you will be disappointed. Blame for the disaster is placed at all levels of the company – from Warren Anderson all the way to the employees working in the plant in India.
The direction works well at the beginning of the film, as it feels like we are merely a member of the crowd observing the action. Also impressive is the way the post-leak Bhopal is shown on film. The director captured the chaos, the pain, and the many deaths (i.e. some gory scenes that bring to light the effect of carbide). Perhaps one of the flaws with the film, however, is that there are no true heroes or villains in the movie. It makes it feel like the film ends without tying up loose ends. On the other hand, perhaps, that is the best way to end this film as there has not been any true closure to the case in reality. Yes, there was a settlement (approximately $2,000 per victim), but the impact of the Bhopal gas tragedy is everlasting.
Also, it may have been better to keep Penn as the main focus, and have his journalism skills uncover individual stories rather than focusing on Penn, Yadav, and Sheen. Switching between Penn and Yadav tends to hurt the flow of the film, and leaves us unattached to Yadav’s character. This truly hurts the movie as his character is supposed to draw the biggest emotional response from the crowd as we are exposed to the happy family, who throughout the film are planning his daughter’s wedding, crumble and succumb to tragedy at the end.
Overall, the film is a nice attempt at tackling a larger than life issue. After all, the Bhopal incident resulted in 10,000+ deaths and, even today, the impact is felt. Penn was a true stand out in the film, and I hope he gets more well-etched roles coming his way. “Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain” releases November 7 in NY, November 14 in LA, November 28 in Chicago, with more cities to follow. It is worth a watch, but don’t go in with high expectations!