After 35 yrs of Bhopal gas destruction, old footage depicting dance of death dugout

BHOPAL: Thirty-five years after the lethal MiC gas gushed out from the UCC plant in Bhopal, raining death and destruction on the city, the world would, for the first time, get to see raw footage of the tragedy, as it unfolded from the morning of December 3, 1984 onwards.

The footage was shot by Musharraf Ali, now 77, with a VHS video camera which he used to film wedding events. However, he never made it public. A US-based filmmaker, who hails from Bhopal, dug out the tapes and has painstakingly restored and digitised them.

A 50-minute documentary, titled ‘Bhopal 84’, based on the video tapes, will be screened at Manas Bhawan, Shamla Hills on December 3.

How filmmaker Nadeem Uddin, who was living in the city with his family at that time, struck upon the footage makes an interesting reading. “Some time in 2001, a member of my family told me that they had heard of a man who had been filming on the streets in the days after the tragedy but had hidden the tapes and the camera out of fear of being arrested. I tracked him down,” Nadeem told Free Press.

The man turned out to be Musharraf Ali. While filming the suffering and death, Musharraf encountered Jagdish Nema, a Hindu, who had attended to the shocked survivors and their dead, performing the rites for Hindu and Muslim alike. Musharraf filmed his work, talking with Nema and the survivors to hear their accounts.

Nadeem gained Musharraf’s trust and was granted permission to digitise the decaying video tapes. However that was easier said than done.

“The tapes needed colour and sound correction and their resolution had to be enhanced. I first worked on them in a Bengaluru-based laboratory and then I took them to the US to salvage whatever I could,” said the filmmaker.

The digital version was ready three years back but Nadeem was not satisfied with the cuts. So he worked on them afresh with his editors.

“The film is about the spark of humanity amid a monumental tragedy. I owe it to Bhopal and that is why I have chosen to unveil it in the city rather than in a film festival,” said Nadeem.

Musharraf Ali, recalling the horror he witnessed and filmed, says that neither the government, nor police, nor social workers could be seen anywhere in the days immediately following the tragedy. “There was no one to help the people except the almighty,” he says. But some people were helping each other. “There was no Muslim and no Hindu there. We all were just human beings, trying to wipe the tears off the faces of the sufferings people,” he said.

Jagdish Nema, 73, recalls how he and others conducted mass cremations of the bodies. “We soon realised that it would be impossible to cremate the dead individually. So, we first burnt 22, then 40 and then 122 bodies together. Later, we collected the ashes in sacks and immersed them in the Narmada River at Hoshangabad on December 6,” he said.

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