Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain

Eva Gascon: Your factory is choking this town…
Warren Anderson: But this factory feeds this town

She was a life-style photo journalist from Paris Match magazine. He was the Chairman of the multinational Union Carbide. They met in Bhopal in the Indian state Madya Pradesh. Anderson was there in the fall of 1984 to rally the troops (the staff at the Union Carbide factory) and to have a look at how the factory was doing. Eva was there to take fashion and lifestyle photos.

At the time when the above conversation took place, in the back of a motorized 3 wheeled rickshaw, aka a tuktuk, neither knew what the future would hold.

The film is called: Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain.

Anderson knew that profits were down. Down because of an excessively long drought. Without rain water, crops could not grow. If crops were not growing, then farmers were not buying the pesticides that Union Carbide was manufacturing right there in Bhopal. Sales were in a steep decline.

In short, all the ingredients were in place.

A Town Desperate For Work

As Sheen’s character Warren Anderson would describe it, India was open for business, and he wanted Carbide at the heart of India’s green revolution. AS he put it, We’re going to build a better farmer.The parent company, Union Carbide, set up a subsidiary called Union Carbide India Ltd. This did two things

1) Union Carbide: Would build the factory then reap the profits (when and if), and
2) The subsidiary: Would carry out the manufacture of the pesticides, the maintenance, the safety, and also bear the legal responsibility.

A Corporation Hungry for Profit

While Anderson was rallying the workers = My name is Warren Anderson. Remember we are not just Carbide, we are Union Carbide, united to build a better future for everyone – his associates were cutting deals with politicians.

When the factory was built, it was on the outskirts of the city. But as people were hired as laborers, the city grew towards the factory. Soon the factory was surrounded on all sides by humanity.

When profits started slipping, the plant managers were told to push the equipment and push the workers. Production was amped, and by the by, maintenance and safety were given short shrift.Some of it was wear and tear, some of it was because local operations people in the plant disregarded safety concerns to maintain productivity.

Despite repeated front page stories in the local press of the dangers, the work continued. The fact of it was that the product, the MIC (Methyl isocyanate) simply could not be mixed with water. If it was (I’m simplifying and not getting into the actual chemistry) a deadly gas would be produced.

The plant had leakages previously that were small and contained, and there were some casualties. Repairs were made, but not necessarily with the best of intentions or with the best possible products. Was it slack management or willful indifference? Were the improperly maintained pipes, valves, and boilers allowed to run as they were breaking down intentionally, or was it even worse than that.

So in 1979, Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas, and Jack Lemmon headlined a film called The China Syndrome. It was a film about the dangers of a possible disaster stemming from what might happen if the nuclear power plant in Ventana. California failed. The film was a huge success and garnered numerous Oscar Nominations. The film was released on March 16th, 1979. Twelve days later, the US watched as the Three Mile Island nuclear accident unfolded in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. The China Syndrome was a work of fiction.

Unfortunately, the film, Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain is based on real events that occurred on the night of December 2-3, 1984. Thousands died within hours of the gas leakage. Just think about that. – killed by the air you breathe.

The film is about the biggest industrial disaster in the history of mankind. Which is surely an overview. The film concentrates on one particular family who lived basically on the other side of the factory fence. We meet them and other people who would become victims. We meet the crusading Indian newspaperman, a local doctor, a bride who ‘s wedding celebration was going on as the disaster was playing out, and we meet the Paris Match journalist.

Warren Anderson is played by Martin Sheen. Though the Indian courts ultimately found Anderson guilty, he never returned to Inia. The US refused extradition. Anderson died in September of 2014 in Vero Beach, Florida.

The Paris Match life-style photographer/journalist Eva Gascon is played by Mischa Barton. Eva Gascon is still taking pictire. Lifestyle pictures. She has her own website:

The Indian newspaperman, Motwani is played by Kal Penn. The character Motwani was inspired by the real life Indian journalist Rajkumar Keswani who was the first journalist to call for attention to the safety lapses in the Carbide factory in Bhopal.

The Indian couple we grow to know were Leela played by Tannishtha Chatterjee and Dilip played by Rajpal Yadav.

All were excellent.

I have to say that the film. co-written by Ravi Kumar and David Brooks, and directed by Ravi Kumar is a heartbreaking and moving film. Yes, the event took place 30 years ago, and we know going in that it actually happened. However reading newspaper accounts, or history books, is not the same as seeing it play out on the screen.

Admittedly, the shock and or suspense are diminished by real truth. But still, I think is worthwhile. Yes, dramatic liberties were taken, but the core of the film is inspired by the real events.

As the tag in the posters tell us: Thirty years have passed…It’s time to tell their story. Three point seven five is the rating, and I will recommend the film. You can rent and stream it from Amazon.

The trailer:

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