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Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain (Benjamin Wallfisch)

April 14, 2015


Benjamin Wallfisch, 2015, MovieScore Media
16 tracks, 39:28

“Bhopal” deals with a harrowing disaster that killed thousands in 1984. How will Benjamin Wallfisch address that?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Directed by Ravi Kumar and inspired by a true event that took place some 30 years ago, “Bhopal” tells the stories of several people (particularly Dilip, a rickshaw driver who lands himself a job at the Union Carbide chemical plant) leading up to an industrial disaster that claimed the lives of 16,000 people.  You can read more about the Bhopal disaster on its dedicated wiki page.

What does it sound like?

At the heart of this score by Benjamin Wallfisch (composer of The Thirteenth Tale, Summer in February, Hammer of the Gods and Conquest 1453) lies a tender and playful melody, representing life and hope. Clear statements of it can heard on piano (in “Introduction”) and Indian flute (the playful “Bhopal” and “Epilogue”). Subtle variations can be found throughout the score. It also forms the basis for “A Prayer for Rain”, a beautiful end credits song featuring a fragile performance from Mary Lea.

There are Indian influences in both the composition of the theme (certain tonal intervals) and the orchestrations (tabla, bulbul tarang, flute); with piano and bells often adding a sense of innocence. “Rickshaw” is a short but absolutely manic piece for table and rhythmic Indian vocals. It gets on my nerves very quickly, yet I can’t stop listening to it!

The disaster and its aftermath are represented through electronic textures – some quite harsh, but most fairly ambient in nature. Wallfisch does a great job at keeping these textural moments moving, which he does by picking synth pads that feel acoustic, mixing them with live instruments (cello, strings, ethnic sounds) and by keeping the music harmonic (if not necessarily melodic). The music never stagnates. And so, whilst bordering on horror, cues like “A Drop of the Arm”, “Dusk” and “The Disaster” still make for a fascinating listen.

Later cues are mesmerising, even if they’re not blatantly melodic. “Temple” feels ever so gentle with its soft strings, twinkling piano and soft Indian flute runs; whilst “Burning Eyes” sounds, for the most part, quite magical with its deep strings and undulating piano arpeggio – though the magic fades as the cue moves towards a harrowing crescendo.

The album’s definite highlight, however, is the openig cue “Elegy for Bhopal” which is absolutely stunning. It offers a melody that is unique to this cue (though I can’t escape the feeling that “Burning Eyes” may be a close relative with regards to its harmonies and overall atmosphere). Wallfisch present a long-lined theme for cello. It is sorrowful, yet lush, especially when the strings take over. Towards the end of the cue  cello and Indian flute take the melody in turn, with the piano adding soft accents. It is a magnificent piece that dominates the score through its absence.

Is it any good?

Benjamin Wallfisch’s score to “Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain” is a beautiful, sometimes playful though generally sorrowful score. It is beautifully orchestrated for strings, with cello and Indian flute taking the lead, whilst piano and various plucked instruments assume accompanying roles. Even during the album’s dark mid section does Wallfisch manage to keep things interesting and moving along. The music is always harmonic and there is always something going on to drive it forward. Overall, the score is actually not overtly melodic! It’s mostly atmospheric, but in a very musical way – if that makes sense. And those moments where the main theme receives an obvious statement stay with you.

Rating [4/5]


01. Elegy for Bhopal (4:30)
02. Introduction (3:02)
03. Bhopal (1:46)
04. Rickshaw (1:19)
05. Prayer (1:50)
06. A Drop on the Arm (2:28)
07. Dusk (1:26)
08. The Disaster (3:00)
09. Are We Safe? (2:25)
10. Good Boy (2:30)
11. Temple (1:34)
12. Burning Eyes (1:58)
13. Cyanide (4:46)
14. Aftermath (1:25)
15. Epilogue (2:14)
16. A Prayer for Rain (3:19)


Visit the MovieScore Media website for more information and audio clips.

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