The tragedy that occurred at Uphaar Cinema in 1997 might have been converted into an easy cashgrab of a docudrama if it had been produced after the success that Netflix India had with the crime anthology Indian Predator (for better or for worse). On the other hand, the streaming service decided to produce the show as a miniseries comprised of seven episodes, which was a smart move on their part.
The novel that inspired the series was written by a couple named Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, who tragically lost their children in a house fire. The serial had the potential to be a sensationalist conflict between good and evil. In Trial by Fire, the Krishnamoorthy family and the AVUT (Association of Victims of the Uphaar Tragedy) have been touring the courts for decades in an effort to get justice for all of those people who perished in the theatre while a fire raged on the other side of the barred doors. The Ansal Brothers, who are magnates in the land industry and were responsible for developments in Delhi such as the city’s first mall, Ansal Plaza, and the cinema hall that was mentioned before, are the ones who are accountable for this crime.
Kevin Luperchio and Prashant Nair, the showrunners for Trial by Fire, maintain enough sensitivity and nuance to tell this story despite the fact that the premise of the show is such that it has generated a great deal of media attention. Rather than resorting to overtly shocking moments or tear-inducing sentimentality, they maintain enough sensitivity to tell this story. Even though the episodes constantly switch around the cast of individuals and the locations, they always have a similarly dark tone. It is very clear that the Krishnamoorthys and others, whatever of the decisions that the court may make, will not be able to regain possession of their loved ones.
This cynical outlook is not at all lost on the audiences, not even the ones on the complete other end of the spectrum. On the one hand, we see Rajshri Deshpande and Abhay Deol fighting the good fight as the Krishnamoorthys. On the other hand, we see that the ones who are hounded as the “bad guys” (there’s literally an episode titled The Villains) are also just low-level employees who are thrown into the drama as scapegoats by the larger villains like the Ansals. In other words, we see that the ones who are hounded as the
Be on the lookout for the characters played by Rajesh Tailang and Ashish Vidyarthi. I won’t go into too much detail here to avoid spoilers. As the mystery of the fire is solved, the murky circumstances surrounding the apparent perpetrators of the blaze become more evident. Tailang portrays a technician who is charged with examining the transformer that ignited the fire in a building that previously did not have a strong track record with security inspections. The building in question is the one that Tailang is featured in. As for Vidyarthi, we have seen him play one villain after another in Hindi films. However, over here, he finally gets the chance to put his dramatic abilities to good use as he plays a morally ambiguous “enforcer” who is employed by the Ansals to put pressure on those who are protesting against their negligence. Vidyarthi stands out among the skilled cast because to her ability to keep a tough exterior in check while yet displaying a range of emotions via her eyes.
In addition, Anupam Kher and Ratna Pathak Shah will be a part of the cast. The two veterans excel as a former Army Captain and his wife, a marriage that seems to have aged quickly with the central tragedy. When it comes to their real-life politics, they may never look each other in the eye, but in this film they portray a relationship that does. Even without an excessive amount of “rona dhona,” the two characters play out their emotional pain with an aura of gloominess that stays with you long after you’ve stopped watching the drama.
In terms of romantic pairings, Rajshri Deshpande and Abhay Deol are excellent choices for their roles since their on-screen chemistry plays a significant role in driving the story along. Both of these feelings, pessimism and a clinging to any semblance of a glimmer of optimism, were brilliantly portrayed by the two actors, notably Deshpande, as their characters struggled with their own personal tragedies.
It is refreshing to watch Abhay Deol lose his reputation as a “cute dimpled guy” for once and look and breathe like an ordinary man. Deshpande nails the sequences of her quiet breakdowns, which is a fantastic thing to witness. Even in sequences that call for her to be more subdued, the alumna of “Sacred Games” manages to capture your attention and make you care about what happens to her. For example, in the second episode, her neighbour asks her character if she can do anything for her. Deshpade’s Neelam responds to this query by asking her neighbour if she can bring back her children. This question is posed as a counterquestion. The ensuing stillness may be very difficult to bear.
Respect for the actual victims seems to be sincere in this Netflix original, as seen by acting and directing that avoids being tone deaf to their plight. Even if some moments in the court procedures are shown in a way that is cinematically dramatic, this will not detract from the enjoyment of watching the show as a whole.
HBO’s Chernobyl seems to be a perfect example of a limited series that delves into real-life disasters from the last few years. It would be exaggerating things to compare Trial by Fire to Chernobyl (or rather insensitive to place two historical tragedies side by side), but the tragedy that occurred at the Uphaar Cinema is not an easy event to film, especially considering the fact that the legal cases themselves never offered any simple solutions.
For Trial By Fire, we’re going to give it a score of 4 out of 5.