Bhopali Q&A with Sanjay & Director Van Maximilian Carlson

Bhopali takes the viewer inside the worst industrial disaster in the world, when in 1984, the U.S. owned Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, experienced a catastrophic gas leak. The documentary film begins on the 25th anniversary of the tragedy, centering on the survivors of the disaster, and their unrelenting fight for justice. “The Bhopal disaster did not happen. It IS happening,” reads the films tagline, and as director Van Maximilian Carlson and survivor-activist Sanjay Verma show us, the people of Bhopal continue to suffer—the remains of the plant continue to contaminate local water and soil, and children continue to be born with crippling birth defects as a result.

Questions with Van Maximilian Carlson:

What made you decide to do the film?

A friend of mine from high school had volunteered at one of the clinics in the film. She recorded a bunch of audio interviews, and when she came back, i edited them into a radio piece for her back in 2008, and that was the first time I had ever heard of the Bhopal disaster. I was even more shocked to learn that  it was an American corporation that basically got away with this atrocity, so that led me to be more interested in the disaster beyond just editing a radio piece. After looking further into it, I couldn’t really find any documentaries on Bhopal so I thought it was a really good topic to delve into, especially because of all the corporate crimes that have been taking place in the past two decades.

How were you received by the people of Bhopal during the making of Bhopali?

For the most part everyone wanted to tell their story, these people have been fighting for the past 27 years, so they were really eager to make sure their voices were heard. In that sense, it was easy for me to get their stories, although many were difficult to hear.

How did Sanjay get involved with the flim?

When I went to Bhopal, I had no idea that Sanjay was going to be such a big part of the film. I got in contact with him through Sathyu Sarangi, who’s one of the managing trustees at the Sambhavna clinic. I told him I was going to make this documentary and I asked him if there was anybody who could show me around and act as my translator. He then put me in touch with Sanjay,  who he’s known for almost his entire life. As soon as we found out that he had lost the most family out of anyone affected by the tragedy, it was evident that we had to include him in the film.

Bhopali is a very moving film. What can viewers do to help those affected by the tragedy?

There’s a couple of things you can do. Theres a petition you can sign on our website ( to president Obama which asks that he at least issue a statement on Bhopal. Right now, we have around 1,000 signatures. If you see the film,  50% of the proceeds will go to, which provides funding for the two leading non-profit health clinics in Bhopal that treat survivors and their children. That’s one of the easiest things people can do—watch the film. You’ll find out more about Bhopal, while contributing to the cause.

How has the making of this film affected your life?

I think that Sanjay was a big inspiration to me, because he’s dealt with such loss and difficult circumstances, but when you meet him you’d never know it. He’s the most uplifting sprit I’ve ever been around. It puts things into perspective, and made me think, ‘wow my issues are no where near what he’s experienced, but yet, he handles it with such grace.’ That was something very inspiring to see. Another thing I’ll always remember is spending time with the children of the Chingari Trust. It’s an experience thats very emotional, but in a good way because they’re all affected by this differently. I’m also happy to have met such powerful people, more strong than I’ve met in my life, all of the activists and survivers in general; they’re a real community, and they’re a realy strong community.

Sanjay Verma is a survivor of the Bhopal disaster. He was only a few months old when he lost 8 of his family members, the most of any person affected by the tragedy. His older brother and sister were able to save him by wrapping him in a blanket and running towards safety. We had the opportunity to speak with Sanjay about his experiences.

How did you first get involved in the activist movement?

It was my brother, actually, who got involved right after the tragedy. When my sister and I moved out of the orphanage and started living with our brother, I found out he was involved in the campaign. I saw women and men in their 60s and 70s protesting in the streets everyday, so I started learning more about it. In the orphanage we didn’t really know much about the tragedy. I started getting involved slowly over time.

What do you think is one of the most important things Bhopali accomplishes?

I think a lot of people think, ‘this happened in 1984 so everything is good there now.’ Bhopali is something that shows you the real face of Bhopal. It shows you that Bhopal isn’t something that just happened in 1984, it’s something that’s happening now. People are struggling everyday. We have been fighting for the past 27 years.

What is it like for you to to be able to reach out to an international audience regarding Bhopal?

I spoke at MIT university on December 3rd and about 70 people who showed up. The auditorium was overcrowded, and the audience didn’t know I was there for a Q&A, which they showed a lot of interest in. It was also good to see people there who knew about Bhopal and had been waiting for the documentary to come out. Its a long documentary, its about 89 minutes long, and people were still excited about it, and they stayed and watched all of it. It was a good thing.

What has this film meant for you?

For me, I’m doing something that my brother did years ago. He travelled a lot. He was in the states for the hearings… The similar thing between what he’s done and what I’m doing is raising awareness among the people. It doesn’t matter where you are, all that matters is that people are aware and getting to know more about Bhopal, so i feel good that I have been able to be apart of this documentary. I’m happy with what I’m doing because it’s not for me, but at the same time it’s for me as well, because i was supposed to die. I am one of them in Bhopal, and in a way, you know, we all live in Bhopal, because if you look around you can find chemical plants like the one in Bhopal in almost every city.

What is your advice for someone who has just seen the film and wants to do something to help? What could I do right now to help?

The least someone can do is tell other people about Bhopal. They can boycott Dow and Dow products, and they can also go to Bhopal and volunteer, but at the very least they can tell someone about it. 

Source: MoviePass Blog

Girl with candle Bhopal

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