In June 1997, a fire broke out at Uphaar Cinema in Delhi, killing 59 innocent people who were there to watch JP Dutta’s Border. Yet there was zero accountability on the part of the perpetrators of this man-made tragedy, hiding a tacit agreement between the owners and the management. Among the victims were Unnati and Ujjwal, the children of Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamurthy, whose lives would be changed forever as they fought for justice in a system where nothing can change overnight. Trial By Fire, the new Netflix series created by Prashant Nair and Randeep Jha, details this real-life tragedy that turns into a battle of the people versus the system, which refuses to take the blame. It will take Krishnamurti two decades and some more time. ,read this also, Kuttey Movie Review: A gripping, raw and wild tale of bloodthirsty people,
Based on the memoir written by Shekhar and Neelam Krishnamurthy, Trial by Fire begins its story on the day of the tragedy and takes shape over the years. It is a story that spans decades, teetering at the intersection of personal tragedy and systemic negligence. Civil suits, court proceedings and innumerable judgments have piled up. Where does one draw the line when a story cuts so far and deep? Trial by Fire begins strongly by focusing on Krishnamurti. We see the events from the point of view of Neelam (Rajshree Deshpande) and Shekhar (Abhay Deol), who decide that they want to file a police complaint against the culprits- who are the Ansal Brothers, the owners of Upahar and about half of the Nineties. Infrastructure in Delhi at the end of the decade. The first two episodes are set on an immediate pattern of events that suggest it will be an uphill battle. From the third episode onward, Trial by Fire opens to supporting characters, parallel timelines, and shifting perspectives that are wound down by tragedy years later.
What works triumphantly for Trial By Fire is how the writing allows its audience to focus on lives affected by tragedy. Trial By Fire is a show about the cost of strength as well as resilience. As Neelam and Shekhar uncover little by little clues and collect evidence to fight for justice, we witness two people whose lives will never be the same. Trial By Fire has never felt the need to sensationalize its life as seen through the many televised interviews with big, dialogue-heavy moments. Rather Nair is interested in digging up the quiet moments of loss and frustration that can never be expressed. Later, in a scene when Neelam and Shekhar visit a friend’s house, and see that their child is all grown up, the devastation in their eyes needs no additional cues.
Piercingly raw and intimate, Trial By Fire also dares to take some narrative swings. However, not all of them land where they should. There is dry-fruits merchant Suri (a sinister Ashish Vidyarthi) who panders to the managers and bribes the families of the victims to stay away from the association. An entire sidetrack focuses on a retired captain and his wife (played by Anupam Kher and Ratna Pathak Shah) whose lives lead to tragedy—yet the digression ultimately feels forced. Meanwhile, there is Umesh (Shardul Bhardwaj), a debt-ridden, who is constantly on the run – whose character is not in line with the ambition of the story. Then comes the biggest gamble of all in Episode 6, where a decade cuts through the interiors of a small hut that belongs to the technician who was on the gift, Veer Singh (the ever-reliable Rajesh Tailang) that day. was working. With superb cinematography by Saumyanand Sahi and editing by Daniel Hjlang, these sequences in Trial By Fire are explosively powerful.
Abhay Deol is quite effective as a man whose steadfastness and unbridled support for his wife cuts through in the smallest of gestures. He knows that no one can escape after the years have passed, yet He will not gather His resources in bits and pieces. Except for a brief encounter with an old friend, which veers into Devdi-esque territory like a drunken affair, Deol cuts a finely tuned performance. Yet, despite the many twists and turns the story takes, Trial By Fire shines brightest when the frame hinges on Rajshree Deshpande. As Neelam, Deshpande is so charming and relatable, that it seems like nothing in the world matters when she takes her stand. There is a quiet rumbling of a bereaved mother’s anger and frustration that has been brewing within Neelam for years which serves as an attention-grabbing hook in later episodes. Most of the time, she knows what’s happening in the room- before anyone else. Note the precision in his delivery of “perv kijiye” for a lawyer who is too anxious to eat his egg roll rather than dig deep into the opposition’s case. Her performance is pitch-perfect.
Trial by Fire is an urgent and important work that urges viewers to sit up and take note of a decades-long tragedy that has been passed from one verdict to the next. Rather than bridging the trials and reckoning of a court-room investigation thriller, this is a controlled, heartbreaking drama that looks back to ask what has changed. In the last episode, when it finally comes back to the tragedy unfolding in real time, you don’t dare look away. In a system that twists the truth to discredit the disenfranchised, what is the cost of hope? In a man-made tragedy of such devastating proportions, is resilience the only key to resolution? Trial By Fire asks, circling that clever fourth-wall-breaking shot of Deshpande’s piercing gaze—the answers to these questions.