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Film Seeks to Help Victims of Bhopal Gas Tragedy

Reuters : Feb 11 2000 12:38PM ET

 

BERLIN (Reuters) - A man burying his baby son killed by a sudden gas leak scrapes away the sand covering the tiny face for a final look. Upon seeing the vacant eyes and pale face, he breaks down in uncontrollable sobbing. The scene is from the powerful new movie ``Bhopal Express'' which portrays the world's worst industrial accident in Bhopal which killed more than 3,000 people in 1984 when poisonous gas leaked from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in India.

``To most of the world and to a lot of Indians this is something that happened in 1984 and it happened and it's over,'' director Mahesh Mathai said in an interview on Friday. ``But having been to Bhopal during the course of my research and stuff I have found that it is not a problem that's over,'' he said. ``There's between 10 and 15 people dying every month in Bhopal of gas-related reasons.... It is shocking that it has just been forgotten.''

The film had its premiere outside India at the Berlin Film Festival on Thursday night, and Mathai is hoping the graphic depiction of the tragedy will increase pressure on Union Carbide to help the victims more. ``The world must  know about it,'' he said. The Indian government's civil case against Union Carbide was settled in 1989 for $470 million. A criminal case against  the company and 11 other defendants is still pending in a court in Bhopal. ``Compensation was given. Most of it still hasn't reached the people,'' he told Reuters. ``Again it's a corrupt bureaucracy, you know, a ridiculous distribution system -- it's still being distributed.'' Mathai said he is hoping the screening of the Hindi-language film in the West will prompt ``the primary criminal, Union Carbide, to own up to its  responsibility and actually go back there and deal with the problems they have left there.''

NEWLYWEDS IN HELL

The film portrays fictional newlyweds, with husband Verma serving as a low-level supervisor and loyal company man at Union Carbide despite his best friend's derisive remarks. Mathai said the character Verma was inspired by what Union Carbide described as a lone employee who triggered the accident in a act of disgruntlement -- a possibility he calls absurd. In the film, the duty supervisor attempts to use Verma as a scapegoat after it is clear he wants to help victims. A long-time director of advertising spots, Mathai, 40, said he only recently realized that Ever-Ready batteries promoted with a well-known commercial he made in the 1980s were made by Union Carbide. The company has since sold its battery division.

Asked about the film, a Union Carbide spokesman in Danbury, Connecticut, said the company had not seen the movie but added they had done a lot to help victims. ``Union Carbide had and continues to have compassion for the victims,'' said Tomm Sprick. ``Reports suggesting that Union Carbide is indifferent to the plight of victims are untrue.'' He also said years of investigations found that a disgruntled employee deliberately added water to a tank, setting off the accident.


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