The 1984 leak of methyl isocyanate at the American-owned Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, killed more than 15,000 and injured half a million. Indian filmmaker Ravi Kumar vividly re-creates the disaster and the events leading to it for his ambitious and shattering first feature, “Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain.”
Debt-ridden Dilip (Rajpal Yadav) is eager to find work at Carbide. Financial relief aside, a job with the town’s flagship employer bestows a certain social respectability that will improve his sister’s marriage prospects. The freak accidental death of a worker creates an opportunity, and Dilip steps into the vacancy despite his lack of experience and training.
Meanwhile, the same accident prompts local muckraker Motwani (Kal Penn) to investigate the company’s chemical products and safety precautions. During a visit by Chief Executive Warren Anderson (Martin Sheen), Motwani tips off Western journalist Eva (Mischa Barton) in an attempt to hold him accountable. Of course, that isn’t enough to defuse the ticking time bomb.
Filmmaking outside the Bollywood system, Kumar depends on Hollywood actors to generate interest here. He pulls off the mammoth, apocalyptic scenes of the disaster, which are devastating. Although the real-life events took place three decades ago, the cautionary tale could not be more relevant: Through “Bhopal,” the filmmaker argues that the promise of jobs and prosperity all too often trumps environmental and safety concerns, and it leads government to ignore corporate wrongdoing.
“Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain”
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.
Playing: Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles.