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Movie Review - Bhopal Express

Chitra Parayath

The Bhopal Gas tragedy was the result of a combination of legal, technological, organizational, and human errors. The film, Bhopal Express is the result of a combination of outrage, moral responsibility and competent filmmaking.

Ad man turned filmmaker Mahesh Mathai directs this heart-rending tale of a people betrayed by corporate irresponsibility and audacity.
The film is based on the tragedy that befell the town of Bhopal on December 2, 1984, when about 40 tons of the deadly methyl isocyanate poison gas from the Union Carbide factory spread over a 12-mile area killing thousands and maiming many others for life.

The film begins with the shot of a lone, crazed man running wildly on the train tracks, trying to stop a train barreling towards him. His despair turns to joy when the train screeches to a halt right in front of him. Another train passes by him and we see the man, shattered, fall on the tracks, crying.
The intriguing opening sequence is explained through flashbacks and we are privy to the life of a young newly wed couple, very much in love. Verma (Kay Kay) and Tara (Nethra Raghuraman) are residents of Bhopal, Verma works as an assistant supervisor at the Union Carbide factory.

A sincere, hardworking morally upright person, Verma is upset when his best friend and auto rickshaw driver Bashir (Nasiruddin Shah) bad-mouths the corporate structure of Union Carbide. Their friendship prevails, though, and the night disaster strikes, the two pals are together visiting Zohra Bai (Zeenat Aman) at a brothel near their town. They exit only to find the chaotic aftermath of the gas leak.

When they see the extent of the tragedy and the toll on human lives, a distraught Verma confronts the officials at the Union Carbide plant. The callous dismissal of the officials and their naming the accident an “ industrial sabotage” devastates Verma as he begins to understand the inadequacies in the safety systems at the plant.

In the US head quarters, we hear the officials express the sentiment, 'This shouldn't have happened. But if it had to happen, thank God it happened in the Third World. There human lives are worth only 250 dollars. If it had happened in a developed country, we would have to shell out 25,000 dollars for every life lost.”

Meanwhile, Basheer is breathing his last in a hospital where baffled patients and doctors search in vain for an anti dote to the poison inhaled by the thousands.
Compounding the tragedy, there is no authority that can prevent more disasters from taking place, such as a train pulling into Bhopal station the morning after the gas leak, when people are still breathing the toxic fumes and dying. Verma’s wife Tara is aboard the train and it is now up to him to stop the train from reaching Bhopal.

A heart wrenching tale told with compassion and good taste, Bhopal Express serves as a grim reminder to the most forgotten but most significant industrial disaster of the last century.

Kay Kay, a seasoned theatre actor and the most under utilized talent in Bollywood excels as the protagonist Verma, eclipsing even Naseeruddin Shah’s great performance. Nethra Raghuraman, the dusky beauty is adequate and Zeenat Aman still can’t act to save her life!

The music of the film is what perked my interest in the film; it includes major talents like Lucky Ali, Jagjit Singh and Ila Arun. Almost a year after its release in 1999, the film found acclaim at the 17th Environmental Film Festival at Freiburg in Germany. 42 films from 17 countries competed in several prize categories at the festival where Bhopal Express was awarded the Golden Lynx for Best Artistic Achievement.

The credit at the beginning of the film is baffling…what does ‘David Lynch presents’ mean? A quick search on the web and we find that “Occasionally, a filmmaker or star will lend their name to a film they support, in the hopes that the endorsement will help the film find a larger audience. In most cases, the "presenter" was not actually involved with the production, but is merely a fan of the film. For example, India's The Terrorist was "presented" by John Malkovich when it was first released in the USA. David Lynch is, of course, the director of such modern classics as the Straight story, Blue Velvet, and The Elephant Man.”

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