Trial by fire review: This series on Uphaar tragedy is a must watch

June 13, 1997. A devastating fire that claimed the lives of 59 people engulfed Upar, one of Delhi’s most popular cinemas. As they struggled to understand how their teenaged child died on a smoke-filled balcony, the doors were blocked or locked, there were no emergency lights, no alarm systems, and no assistance from staff who had fled the building. Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy started creating an organization to help victims of what became known as the Uphaar tragedy.

Currently streaming on Netflix, the 7-part web series ‘Trial By Fire’ is based on the couple’s book of the same name. The title of the Hindi version, ‘Agniparkeeksha’ aptly defines their indomitable courage to continue on their journey to obtain justice for their children. And for the 57 others who died that afternoon in a tragedy that proved completely preventable in court while watching J P Dutta’s war film ‘Border’.

Not only did the fire take away their children, 13-year-old Ujjwal and 17-year-old Unnati, but they also suffered ‘agnipariksha’ whenever they went out to summon the rich and powerful. The country’s indifferent officials, theater owners, Sushil and Gopal Ansal ‘owned half of Delhi’, large law firms refused to touch the case for the longest time to file an FIR. The enormous difficulties ordinary citizens face along the way come in the form of outright and violent threats, callousness and betrayal by those close to them, perhaps the worst wounds. It’s all in the series.

Showrunner Prashant Nair directed several episodes alongside co-directors Randeep Jha and Avani Deshpande, while Soumayananda Sahi shot the entirety with urgency and spontaneity. The series does an important job of remembering the unsung heroes and documenting their endless history. , soul-depriving labor, because that is for posterity. As one character in the series put it, it’s amazing how the media, including print and TV, continues to follow the tragedy of Uphaar in a country where everything is so quickly forgotten.

And it depends on the amazing spirit of Neelam and Shekhar. They continued to throw punches and stand up. Like most people in their situation, the couple realized they couldn’t count on help from anyone, including the government and the billionaire builder who owned the theater and was involved in running it. An employee is wandering around when he inadvertently sets another employee on fire, and the manager tries to report the fire within 20 minutes of learning about it. Ansals ne kya kaha?

Rajshri Deshpande, her face clouded with comprehension and a blur of dawn sorrow, and Abhay Deol as the wounded spouse who continues to provide unwavering support to her wife, playing the parents with such empathy that our hearts go to them. How do you treat each other when a pre-ordered birthday cake for your kid who hasn’t seen the day arrives on your doorstep? Hiding it from each other, discovering the inevitable, laying the plate, cutting the pieces, a shaky admission that it’s awful (a choleric green mixture with a red cricket ball and a field of green), and comforting each other all in felt silence. . And the impact that day has on their marriage is shown as their home becomes a battleground, filled with a lifetime of mourning, frustration, and resilience to get through the darkest hours. Finally, a journey of hope and inspiration.

I’m having a little problem. From a small thing called an auto, not a rickshaw in Delhi, to a bigger and more dramatic thread clearly inserted to keep us engaged. Balcony doors that are locked from the outside so that no one can sneak in without a ticket, tickets are checked at the theater entrance and ushers escort you to your seat. Investigation revealed that one functional exit was locked or blocked. But why?

There is also a mysterious dried fruit exporter played by Ashish Vidyarthi who threatens the victims and offers them cash inducements to get out of AVUT (Ufar Tragedy Victims Association). He’s apparently an assassin-cum-fixer in the clutches of a company owned by the Ansals, and one wonders how true his sinister nature is. The chase scene, filmed on a busy street, and the small characters, down to the ‘ma-behen gaalis’ who can’t speak, all give it a slightly filmy feel. But they make up for in the way AVUT conferences are held, where participants go through a range of emotions and get a glimpse of the enormity of their struggles as they continue to work for more than half a century.

The background of ‘Border’, an episode featuring a soldier who lost the front line in the 1971 war and his long-suffering wife (Anupam Kerr, Ratna Patak Shah) feels like a digression. . But going back to that fateful matinee show adds layers. Like the wonderful Rajesh Tailang electric boardman’s episode where he falls victim to his wife reaching out for him in bed, it makes these characters real and relatable.

The disclaimer states that the series does not claim ‘the veracity or accuracy of any events or events’ and is a work of fiction inspired by the book ‘Trial Of Fire’. It has to be. But rightfully and thankfully, they don’t hesitate to name it. Gopal and Susil Ansal may still be construction magnates, the charges against them may have been drastically reduced, and they may have escaped lengthy sentences, but the fact that they were booked cannot be missed. It was also a trial by fire brought to life by Neelam and Shekhar who managed to start ‘badlaav’ rather than ‘badla’ even though the fight for justice wasn’t over.

It is their dignity to stay with you. Their quietness makes them all the more touching, despite their sometimes well-deserved outbursts. The best part of the series is the steadiness that permeates even the saddest faces. There’s no loud, heart-pumping hysteria, no sensationalism. Earlier this week, Ansals tried to stop streaming the series. They failed and we all have to watch. A ‘trial by fire’ had to be created so that this would never happen again and not be forgotten.

I never forgot I was in Uphaar for the 12 o’clock clock show of ‘Border’ that day and went to another movie in another part of Delhi. For me, it was another Friday with a series of movies. When I got back, my phone was ringing with frantic calls from coworkers wanting to know if I was okay. I look back on that day and wonder what would have happened if I had flipped through the film and been on Uphaar when the fire happened.

Trial By Fire Cast: Rajshri Deshpande, Abhay Deol, Rajesh Tailang, Ashish Vidyarthi, Anupam Kher, Ratna Pathak Shah
Trial By Fire Directors: Prashant Nair, Randeep Jha, Avani Deshpande

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