- Composed by Benjamin Wallfisch
- MovieScore Media / 2015 / 39m
I remember when I first read about the Bhopal industrial disaster, scarcely able to comprehend the scale of the tragedy that befell the Indian city in 1984 when a gas leak from a chemical plant caused environmental disaster, killing thousands of people and leaving up to 150,000 still affected by various defects now, over thirty years later. Director Ravi Kumar has now made a film of the disaster and its after effects, starring Martin Sheen as the CEO of Union Carbide, the American parent company of the plant’s owners, focusing on the story of one young man who just starts work there when the tragedy unfolds.
Scoring duties fell to Benjamin Wallfisch, a talented composer who really made people (including me) sit up and take notice recently with his exquisite Summer in February. This score opens with the outstanding “Elegy for Bhopal”, an impassioned piece so full of feeling – heartbreakingly sad but very beautiful, it’s really rather stunning and deserves a lot of attention and praise. It’s a standalone piece, not really typical of the rest of the score.
The early portions of the score which follows feature some far lighter music, “Introduction” and “Bhopal” both having a Thomas Newman feeling about them with some playful soloists (including Indian instrumentalists) dancing around and then “Rickshaw” introducing an arrestingly different tone with Indian vocalists singing in a style I’ve never heard before. “Prayer” is a moment of calm, a beautiful piano-based reflection.
After that, the mood changes completely, with “A Drop on the Arm” introducing some particularly harrowing, horrific electronic effects. It’s so effectively bleak – understandably so – that it makes for very challenging listening. The album’s press release describes the “terrifying electronic textures representing the toxic chemicals suffocating the city” and that feeling is captured perfectly by Wallfisch. The brief “Dusk” isn’t quite as spine-chilling, but “The Disaster” is, pan flutes (or probably an Indian variant) being used by the composer much as Ennio Morricone has occasionally over the years to signify unfolding horror. The piece leads up to a particularly ghastly electronic conclusion.
“Are We Safe?” certainly has an air of human desperation to it, as its title suggests, little string phrases tentatively expressing themselves over the bleak wash underneath. Finally a moment of hope arrives in “Good Boy”, a lovely piano solo emerging from the gloom. A slower reprise of some material from the earlier parts of the score is then heard in “Temple”, which is very pleasant. “Burning Eyes” lulls the listener into a false sense of security with a moving passage which builds cleverly up to a chilling ending. This leads into the very dark “Cyanide”, harsh and jarring electronics coming to the fore before being joined by more dissonant ideas from the string section. “Aftermath” feels like a tour of some charred ruins; then the score ends with an “Epilogue” which does seem to have a few shoots of recovery, particularly as it nears the end.
An original song written by Wallfisch and performed by Mary Lea, “A Prayer for Rain”, closes the album and is actually very tender and attractive, a message of hope after some difficult moments in what’s gone before. Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain is inevitably very challenging at times but there’s an underlying beauty to it which is never too far away. It’s very easy to admire the score, even in its darkest moments. Large portions of it are immediately accessible and that opening elegy would be worth getting even if the rest of the album weren’t so impressive. This one’s highly recommended.