Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain is a 2014 Indian English-language historical drama film directed by Ravi Kumar. Based on the Bhopal disaster that happened in India on 2–3 December 1984, the film stars Martin Sheen, Mischa Barton, Kal Penn, Rajpal Yadav, Tannishtha Chatterjee and Fagun Thakrar. Benjamin Wallfisch composed the film’s music. Kumar’s idea for making a film based on the Bhopal disaster came after he read a book about it. Shot over a period of 18 months, it was originally scheduled for a late 2010 release. However, the lack of responses from distributors kept delaying the release.
In April 2013, a new trailer was released and the film received a market screening at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival on 16 and 19 May. It was also screened at Pan Asia, Dingle and the Tokyo International film festivals. Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain was released in the United States on 7 November 2014 and in India on 5 December 2014. A private screening of the film was held at the youth assembly in the United Nations on 7 August 2014.
The film received mixed reviews from critics, who praised the actors’ portrayal of their respective characters but found the film underwhelming. A few organisations fighting for the rights of the victims of the tragedy blamed the film for presenting the facts in a distorted manner. Kumar and Sheen denied these allegations. The Madhya Pradesh government exempted the film from paying tax.
In 1984, a few months before the Bhopal disaster, Dilip (Rajpal Yadav), a rickshaw driver, loses his income when his rickshaw breaks down while transporting an employee to the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal. Dilip lives in the slums near the plant with his wife, a son and his sister. He obtains a job in the plant as a labourer, and is happy since his daily wage is restored.
The plant’s revenues drop due to lower sales of pesticides, and in order to reduce costs the officials neglect safety and maintenance. Questioning the chemicals used in the plant, Motwani (Kal Penn), a tabloid reporter, publishes reports on his printing press which are disregarded by most of the officials and workers. Roy (Joy Sengupta), the plant safety officer, expresses his concerns. The officials however ignore his warnings, and a worker is killed when a drop of methyl isocyanate leaking from a pipe lands on his arm. The officials deem the worker’s irresponsibility as the cause of the accident and the plant continues to function. Dilip is given a better-paying vacant job in the plant despite lacking the skill to operate the machinery. A gas leak is prevented by Roy when water is mixed with methyl isocyanate, and in an attempt to stop people from panicking, the official in the plant disables the warning siren.
Warren Anderson (Martin Sheen), the CEO of Union Carbide, visits the plant to inspect its functionality, where he is briefed about a plan to connect two additional tanks for storage of methyl isocyanate to increase the output of the plant, ignoring the deteriorated condition of the tanks. Motwani meanwhile meets Eva Gascon (Mischa Barton), a reporter for Paris Match, and persuades her to interview Anderson. She falsely claims to be an Associated Press reporter, but her lie is exposed during the interview. Motwani convinces Dilip of the danger posed by the chemicals.
As the date of the disaster nears, Dilip arranges a loan for his sister’s wedding. Roy later explains how the company is ignoring safety standards and that a future leak might become uncontrolled as the officials had turned off safety measures to reduce maintenance costs. Roy gives his resignation to the company and advises Dilip not to talk about the plant’s safety if he wishes to retain his job. Dilip makes a phone call to Motwani describing what Roy just said, and expresses his fear about the plant’s safety, saying he will return to the rickshaw-pulling business as soon as his sister is married.
To overcome the increasing revenue loss, the officials shut down the plant, firing most of the workers, including Dilip. The plant officials then order the use of the remaining methyl isocyanate as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Dilip is busy with his sister’s wedding, and Roy has a final look of the control room. The safety measures fail and a runaway reaction follows. The faulty tanks cause the gas to start leaking, and an attempt to contain the leak fails. The gas escapes to the surroundings and is carried east by the wind. Motwani rushes to alert the people in the vicinity of the plant to vacate and head west, since the warning sirens were previously sabotaged. He meets Dilip, who ignores the warning and asks Motwani to leave the area without causing any hindrance to the wedding. Meanwhile, the guests experience irritation in the eyes and discomfort in breathing. Dilip senses the danger and visits the plant, realising that the plant had been compromised. He rushes back to his residence where he finds his family and relatives dying from acute exposure to the toxic gas. He carries away his son, paying farewell to his wife’s corpse and flees the slum.
As the gas shows its effects, a nearby hospital is filled with hundreds of patients reporting cyanide poisoning, and the lack of antidote results in most of the patients’ death. Dilip, on his deathbed, and using the last of his strength, rips off his Union Carbide identity badge and after flinging it away, rests his dead son on the ground. He eventually accepts his fate to die in the highly toxic gas cloud and succumbs to the toxic gas, dying by his son’s side. The story jumps to the present day, where a blind boy is holding Dilip’s identity badge, and the film ends with Motwani narrating the words, “Whatever may be the cause of the disaster, Carbide never left Bhopal.” A photo montage depicts the aftermath of the disaster and pictures of the characters and their real-life counterparts.
Martin Sheen played the role of Warren Anderson
Martin Sheen as Warren Anderson, the chief executive of Union Carbide. Anderson was declared a fugitive by an Indian court.
Mischa Barton as Eva Gascon, a Paris Match reporter
Kal Penn as Motwani, a local journalist. Penn said that the “larger-than-life, colourful role” of the reporter was what attracted him to the project. His role is inspired by the story of the Indian journalist Rajkumar Keswani
Rajpal Yadav as Dilip, a factory worker
Tannishtha Chatterjee as Leela, Dilip’s wife
Manoj Joshi as Dr. Chandra
Fagun Thakrar as Rekha
Gopichand Lagadapati as Steward.
Akhil Mishra as Napoleon
Joy Sengupta as Roy
David Brooks as Shane
Satish Kaushik as Labour Minister Lalit