Ever since I learned about the Bhopal gas leak incident in 1984, I have always tried to create a picture of it in my head, most specifically about what actually happened on the night that took almost 15000 lives.
Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain – a film by Ravi Kumar – has satisfied some of my curiosities. It paints a very vivid picture of the events leading up to the night of the tragedy. The story is an impression of the time recreated by loosely connected narratives of people in two different parts of the world. We are pulled into the world of these people by a series of disjointed events that appear quick and jerky during the first 30 minutes of the film. However, as the story progresses, we begin to sense the direction these lives are going to take, and before the halfway mark we know exactly what the writers have in their head.
The film doesn’t boast a unique structure or approach to its subject matter or storytelling. We know the story. We know it is gritty and difficult and we know it will end in tragedy. So to keep the audience hooked, the real challenge lies in craftsmanship. It is shot in a very tight, almost claustrophobic style. The editing is a strange mix of push and release. The editors wanted to release the mounting tension and so certain sequences were planned merely to lighten the mood. The dialogue works almost always, although some small characters needed more work. The key characters are sketched with remarkable accuracy.
The film, however reaches its pinnacle towards the climax which is rendered with precision and poetics. You feel the pain, but don’t feel nauseated by it. The narrative doesn’t push too much at you and music, performances, visuals and narrative come together in a fine balance.
The performances are stellar. Martin Sheen does justice to Warren Anderson’s character. Rajpal Yadav’s character evokes genuine pathos and Kal Penn’s portrayal of the local newspaper reporter is excellent, even though I wondered why he would talk to factory workers in English, when he is perfectly capable of speaking in Hindi.
But more than anything else, the film does justice to the victims of the disaster. It reminds us of our mistakes and injustices. It opens a dark chapter from our history and invites an open dialogue on it, sans the blame-game.
So how good is the film? We think it is ★★★
Should you watch it? Most definitely YES!