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|December 9, 1999||
That day -- in December 1984 -- was like any other for the rest of the country. But not for the people of Bhopal. It was the day when 6,000 people died. Ten thousand more followed and 500,000 people were maimed for life.
A gas leak from the Union Carbide plant was responsible for the worst catastrophe since the Industrial Revolution began. The world was stunned. But only for a few days, may be a few months. People paused and then, they moved on.
Fifteen years later one man decided to remind a callous world that the wounds have not healed yet. That the victims of the methyl isocyanate leak have not been cured, rehabilitated or compensated any way.
Deepak Nayar, producer, told ad film-maker Mahesh Mathai that he should do something about Bhopal because no one else had done it. Thus was born Bhopal Express.
The film opens with a man trying to stop a train. Then we move onto the story. A gas leak is detected in the factory and the maintenance department is shown missing.
A tragedy unfolds against the backdrop of a love story. A newly-married supervisor Verma (Kay Kay) works for Union Carbide. His young bride is Tara (Nethra Raghuraman). His friend Bashir (Naseeruddin Shah) walks out of Union Carbide to drive an auto-rickshaw.
Tara is observing karva chauth, a fast undertaken by Hindu women for their husband's good health. Hindu tradition also dictates that the wife should spend some time with her mother during certain months of the year to avoid giving birth to a child at inauspicious times.
The heroine leaves for her mother's home and the husband decides to have some fun. Along with his friend, they go to Zohrabai's (Zeenat Aman) den for music and alcohol. One of the highlights of the film is the interaction between Naseer and Zeenat. The unsaid words, the body language, the eyes -- they speak volumes. It is simply brilliant, leaving no doubt about the talent of the trio -- Zeenat, Naseer and Mahesh.
The filmi masala ends here. They emerge from Zohrabai's den to see people running for their lives. The mist descends. Over 40 tonnes of toxic gas spreads over old Bhopal. The factory officials deny it is toxic, the hospital is helpless.
At this point, the music is more scary than the visuals.Your hair stands on end as people drop dead like flies. Actually, you first see flies dropping and then men.
Juxtaposed against this is a meeting at the US headquarters of Union Carbide. Unnecessarily here, the English words are repeated in Hindi. What is important is what they say: '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.'
The next morning shows corpses lying around. There are mass burials and tears. And despite this disaster, a train full of people is allowed to enter Bhopal.
You come out of the theatre shaken out of your complacency.
Bhopal Express will get people discussing the movie and then naturally, the disaster. And if the people force the government to impose safety norms and distribute the compensation of Rs 1,100 crores that it has been sitting on, then Mahesh would achieve what he has set out to.
Nethra Raghuraman looks natural in the role of the young devoted wife. Kay Kay, an experienced stage actor, portrays his character beautifully. Naseeruddin Shah, as always, is excellent. Zeenat Aman, back after an 11-year gap, proves she has not forgotten how to act. She is like good wine which has matured gracefully.
There are art movies that win awards and masala movies that make money. Mahesh Mathai tries to bridge the gap. Will he succeed? Those who watch the film will love it. The preview in Bombay was well received.
As the director put it, "I know the intelligentsia will see it, but I want the masses to see it. I want to prove that there is a market for good cinema." That's where the greatest challenge lies.
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