Film Review: Irada

Issue-driven Indian movie focuses on corporate corruption and influence-buying in India's Punjab region, where improper disposal of toxic waste has created a public-health crisis.
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No, Irada is not a Bollywood musical, though one character does take time out from covering up life-threatening corporate malfeasance to attend one. Would-be whistleblower Anirudh Dutt (Nikhil Pandey) has come into possession of damning documents that prove smug corporate tool Paddy Sharma (Sharad Kelkar) has secretly condoned dumping toxic byproducts of lucrative chemical manufacturing into the land surrounding his ominous plants, waste that has made its way into the groundwater and is being used by local residents for drinking, cooking, washing and swimming. But he's kidnapped and murdered before he can go public, leaving his journalist fiancée, Maya Singh (Sagarika Ghatge), to take up the mantle.

Standing in her way are Sharma, his chief goon Jeetu (Rajesh Sharma), on-the-take Chief Minister Ramandeep Braitch (veteran actress Divya Dutta) and her lap dog, National Investigation Agency officer Arjun Mishra (Arshad Warsi). But Maya isn't the only person looking into the possibility that Sharma's facility is the reason the region has been dubbed a "cancer belt”: Ex-military officer Parabjeet Walia (prolific star Naseeruddin Shah) lost his bright, athletic, devoted college-age daughter Riya (Rumana Molla) to an aggressive cancer he suspects was brought on by her daily fitness regimen, which included swimming in a local canal.

As if that wasn't bad enough, there's a massive explosion at the plant that sends a poisonous cloud into the air. Was it an accident—or could it have been a terrorist act?

Irada opens with a remarkably comprehensive disclaimer: "All characters, activities, locations, names, situations and persons (living or dead) portrayed or used in this film are fictitious and any resemblance or similarity to reality is a pure coincidence and unintended. Even though certain incidents may be inspired by media reports, the film depicts nothing more than a fictionalized account of the same for dramatization of a fictional story. The film, its producers, director, artists, writers or other persons associated with the film do not intend to offend, outrage, insult, damage, hurt the sentiments or feelings of any person, community, class of persons, religion, region, state or country in any way."

All right, then: Irada is fiction, even if it might put some viewers in mind of one of the most notorious chemical–plant disasters of the 20th century, which happened in Bhopal, India (though the corporate entity that owned the facility, Union Carbide, was American). And Irada is not subtle; though Shah does deliver an effectively restrained performance as a father eaten up by grief and regret, if Kelkar's slick Paddy Sharma were any more despicable, he'd be twirling a magnificent moustache he doesn't have and tying Maya to the railroad tracks. But it's probably safe to assume that some persons will take issue with first-time director Aparnaa Singh's blunt evocation of money-before-lives indifference, given that four decades after Bhopal and in the wake of countless other environmental disasters it remains notoriously difficult worldwide to hold corporations responsible for damage to human life and the environment that supports it.

And it's not every day you see a movie whose end-credit roll includes a statement as bold as "The new face of terrorism is eco-terrorism.” Kudos to Irada for taking a stand.

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