BHOPAL EXPRESS. Director: Mahesh Mathai. Players: Kay Kay, Naseeruddin Shah, Zeenat Aman, Nethra Raghuraman. Hindi with English subtitles. DVD (Cinebella).
In the annals of industrial calamities, surely no other event ranks as deadly or callous as the 1984 tragedy in Bhopal. Taking a fictitious slant to real-life events, Bhopal Express captures a harrowing, almost minute-by-minute retelling of events leading up to that horrific night. Framed around the headline-making events that are superbly authenticated by accoutrements of the early 1980s, Mathai’s film is nothing short of awesome.
Seen through the eyes of Verma (Kay Kay), a low-ranking supervisor at Union Carbide’s ill-fated industrial campus, Express uses an austere docu-style pace to outline possibly the saddest episode in the annals of multinational (read Western) industrial exploitation in developing countries (read India). The nostalgically-charged and superbly-executed snapshots into Verma’s new marriage to his dutiful wife, the charming Tara (Raghuraman), tap into the vibrant ethos of a working-class community that would soon be devoured by a ghostly gas cloud that resulted in the “Hiroshima of Industrial Disasters.”
Supported by an exceptional ensemble cast that includes Shah as a disgruntled former factory boss and Verma’s best friend and Aman as the mysterious madame at a local night joint, Express moves at the speed of a first-rate thriller. The chaotic opening shot of a man single-handedly attempting to a stop fast-moving train accurately sets a high expectation for the rest of the film.
Zooming in on the lax safety standard within the plant as the main culprit that turned a minor blaze into a disaster of epic proportions, Express leaves no doubt that Union Carbide’s Bhopal experience was an industrial train wreck just waiting to happen. Even though originally released in 1999 (and only recently made available on Cinebella’s DVD catalog), Bhopal Express is still fresh, numbingly sad, and so on-time.
Aniruddh Chawda writes from Wisconsin, on America’s north coast.