On 27 July 2005 at 8:30 am, the observatory at Santa Cruz in north Mumbai recorded a rainfall of 94.4 cm during the previous 24 hours, while the Colaba observatory in Mumbai’s southern tip recorded barely 7.3 cm in the same period. Rainfall over Vihar lake was 105 cm, even higher than Santa Cruz. The previous record of heaviest 24-hour rainfall over Mumbai was 58 cm for Santa Cruz and 37 cm for Colaba on 5 July 1974. Comparatively speaking, only Santa Cruz broke the previous record, but for Colaba the rainfall was in no way unusual. However, the Mumbai rain event of 26 July 2005, as it is now referred to by meteorologists, was unusual in that it affected life in the metropolis in a never-before manner. Hundreds of people lost their lives, drowned by the deluge, fatally trapped in cars, electrocuted, or caught in the debris of collapsing buildings. The rains literally brought the city which never sleeps, to a standstill.

Meteorologists know that such phenomena do occur once in a way and they are called extreme events. But this was perhaps the most extreme of extreme events and it generated an extreme reaction among meteorologists, primarily because it had not been predicted. They held seminars, workshops and brainstorming sessions to analyse every aspect of the situation and to see if the event could somehow have been predicted or if a similar future occurrence could possibly be predicted. Climate change enthusiasts seized it as another opportunity to reinforce their claim that the climate has changed. Environmentalists blamed it all on the neglect of the environment.

It is now the turn of the moviemakers to take a look at the Mumbai rains from their own viewpoint. The Hindi film, Tum Mile, was to have been released on the fourth anniversary of the Mumbai rain event, but the release got postponed to 13 November 2009 when Mumbai had just been recovering from its brush with cyclone Phyan, which thankfully did not cause much damage or loss of life and had dissipated quickly.

Tum Mile begins with a shot of the campus of the University of Cape Town where Sanjana (Soha Ali Khan), is campaigning enthusiastically about the environment and climate change. Just when she is beginning to attract an audience, there is a sudden sharp shower that disperses the listeners and drowns her hopes as well. But in the background is Akshay (Emraan Hashmi), an aspiring painter, who falls in love with her at first sight. The film is full of flashbacks, but if the story is to be straightened out, it is just that their love grows, they decide to live together, and are generally happy, but when it comes to marriage, things begin to break apart and Sanjana and Akshay go their own ways. Six years later, they meet each other by coincidence on a flight to Mumbai, and by coincidence again the day they land in Mumbai happens to be 26 July 2005, the day of the deluge. At Mumbai airport they part ways to do what they have come to Mumbai to do. But they are both stuck in the rains and they do not reach their destinations. Instead they meet on the streets of Mumbai, wade through waist-deep water, rescue other people, and save themselves out of impossible situations. By the time morning breaks, they have rediscovered their lives and their love and stand wondering why they had ever separated at all.

The film begins with the usual disclaimer that the characters in the film are fictitious and that any resemblances are coincidental, etc. But there were two things that struck me hard while watching Tum Mile. One was that throughout the film, which had quite a lot of actual and make-believe footage, it appeared that people in Mumbai on that dreadful day, were fighting their battle with nature almost on their own. There were hardly any shots of the police, fire brigade, or ambulances in action or even in the background.

But apart from that, what struck me more was the perception of the story writer and the director of the film about the meteorological office. In fact, the opening shot of Tum Mile is that of what it called the “Weather Department (Mumbai)”. It shows the staff on duty busy playing carom. The place is dimly lit, but there are computer screens flashing data and images in bright colours. What could be a satellite picture shows an ominous cloud formation. One of the duty staff notices it when he happens to pass by the computer screen, but the others tell him not to worry but concentrate on their game of carom. There is a suggestion of informing the airport, but the idea is dropped. The day would be just another rainy day for Mumbai and nothing unusual was going to happen, is what they all feel. There is a second shot of the “Weather Department (Mumbai)” later in the film, in which the staff is taking a fresh look at the images and data. They are now shown to be amazed by what they see and there is a talk about giving a warning, But by that time, it is too late.

Yes, the legal disclaimer in the film says that any resemblances are purely coincidental, but it would be worthwhile for meteorologists to ponder about what people think of them and their forecasts in today’s world with its advanced technology, apart from the jokes and cartoons that have always been there about them.

– R R Kelkar

22 November 2009

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