New Delhi

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 January, 2012, 12:00am

Numerous documentaries and books have been produced about what is now known as the Bhopal disaster, when toxic gas leaking from the Union Carbide factory in the Indian city killed and maimed thousands in 1984.

Nearly three decades later, the first feature film on the tragedy has finally emerged - a project aimed, according to its director Ravi Kumar, at raising awareness of an event which has largely faded from the public consciousness.

'Bhopal is not too distant in the memory so it's still relevant to people around the world,' the Indian director says. 'New information has emerged and a multi-point-of-view story can be told that would not have been possible, say, 10 or 15 years ago.'

Starring Martin Sheen as Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson and Mischa Barton as a reporter confronting the now frail executive at his New York home, Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain revisits the fateful night on December 2, 1984, when those living in the shanty town around the plant woke up choking on the pestilential fumes.

Kumar thinks the film's relevance stems from the fact that environmental disasters and accidents, such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, are happening all the time. 'The blueprint mechanism of all accidents is the same - lack of corporate governance, greed, cost cutting. There may be another Bhopal brewing somewhere right now.'

But some of the activists who have worked with the survivors claim that the film's depiction of the management of Union Carbide and the burden of responsibility is not accurate. Rachna Dhingra of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, who has read the script but not seen the film, says the film (which is slated for a release early this year) is an 'insult' to the victims for two main reasons: 'It blames Union Carbide India totally for the gas leak while letting the parent company in the US off the hook even though it was aware of the daily operations of the plant. And it portrays Anderson like some saintly guy who wanted to help but wasn't able to,' she says.

But Kumar refuses to be disturbed by the claims. It is obvious, he says, that Anderson must shoulder the responsibility for the disaster. 'Even Martin Sheen insisted on the same conclusion. In fact, he rewrote some scenes to make sure Anderson's character comes across as culpable. But making Anderson a James Bond-like villain would have been counter-productive,' he explains.

'We have treated the story with the utmost respect and gravity. All the politics and media noise is derivative and secondary, and not important to us. The Indians who have seen the work-in-progress film agree that we have made India proud by making this epic film on a small budget for a world audience,' he says.


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