Ravi Kumar’s Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain is the second feature film based on the Union Carbide factory disaster in Bhopal that killed thousands 30 years ago.

In 1999, Mahesh Mathai made Bhopal Express with Kay Kay Menon in the lead role. Like most films trying to recreate disasters of such a tragic scale that pose questions about the dangers of reckless industrialization, both films have knee-jerk emotions and are activist in tone. Kumar’s film gets further simplified by a cast that seems at a loss when it comes to the reality it’s functioning in.

Kal Penn as a local journalist at pains to expose Union Carbide is a caricature. So is Martin Sheen as the callous American boss hell-bent on profit over humanitarian concerns. Rajpal Yadav plays a poor man living on the margins of Bhopal. His family’s fortunes (including his wife, played by Tannishtha Chatterjee) seem to improve when he gets a manual worker’s job at the Union Carbide factory. Just as his family and he welcome guests to his sister’s wedding, the gas leaks and the entire town is subsumed in claustrophobia, disease and death.

Kumar and cinematographer Charlie Wuppermann scan ordinary scenes of life in Bhopal in jarring but pretty detail, falling into the trap of timeless exoticizing of non-Western mise en scène in Western cinema. The writing is simplistic and the dialogue sounds staged and stilted.

The climactic scenes of mass hysteria and death have some powerful moments and make you wonder why we don’t remind ourselves of this tragedy more often. But apart from the provocative end, Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain is a wasted opportunity.

Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain released in theatres on Friday.

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