The opening pan of a Punjabi city in the hazy early morning shadow of four hyperboloid nuclear cooling towers appropriately sets up Hindi eco-thriller Irada, which opens this weekend and stars the distinguished Naseeruddin Shah as Parabjeet Walia, an ex-military man turned published poet, out to avenge the death of his young daughter from cancer brought on by illegal industrial chemical dumping.
Shah brings his Morgan Freeman--like look and gravitas to the role, intently (irada, in both Hindi and Urdu, connotes "intention," among other things) portraying a father's guilt over failing an adorable young daughter Riya (Rumana Molla) who in scenes reminiscent of current huge Bollywood hit Dangal, trains hard under his demanding direction in order to be accepted in fighter pilot school. But after nearly drowning during an intense workout, she's found to have advanced lung cancer, which Walia traces to a chemical plant owned by Paddy Sharma (Sharad Kelkar).
Turns out that Sharma essentially owns the entire town, including the state's Chief Minister (celebrated actress Divya Dutta). Working parallel to Walia is an investigative journalist (Sagarika Ghatge), also trying to nail Sharma after her boyfriend is murdered fro trying to expose his plant's deadly practices, mainly the reverse boring process of injecting toxic waste into the ground, thereby contaminating the water supply. A quirky NIA (the anti-terror National Invesitagation Agency) officer (award-winning actor Arshad Warsi) is also enlisted, though he's under the Chief Minister's thumb and locked in a battle of wits with Walia.
Still, there's a shortage of suspense, and plot twists and developments often lack credibility. But if it's needed, Irada does underscore the horrors of chemical contamination. As the NIA officer learns, the city is "alive only on paper": He witnesses the horrors firsthand on the "cancer train"—the actual Punjabi train that carries cancer patients to the government's regional cancer center, a trip marred in the movie by parasitic vendors hawking blood and "chemo insurance" to survivors.
Appended at the film's end is a statement by the Supreme Court of India's senior advocate Colin Gonsalves affirming every Indian's right to healthy, non-toxic food, also a couple text messages noting that the Punjab has become India's "cancer belt" due to chemical contamination.
On a lighter note, the female investigative reporter unintendedly universalizes the problematic "cocktail of chemicals" by calling it "chemical chutzpah," making Irada perhaps the first Hindi movie to use the Yiddish term. She should know, though, that the "ch" sound in chutzpah is more like an "h" and definitely not the "ch" in "church"—and that the "u" sounds like "foot" rather than "but."