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Series Review: Trial by Fire

Series Review: Trial by Fire

Starring: Abhay Deol, Rajshri Deshpande, Anupam Kher, Ratna Pathak Shah, Ashish Vidyarthi, Rajesh Tailang, Shilpa Shukla, Shardul Bharadwaj

Directors: Prashant Nair, Randeep Jha, Avani Deshpande

The Netflix series' Trial by Fire' is a difficult watch. Like the reality of death, we'd prefer to stay ignorant, not see it, not hear about it, and not admit that death exists.

How does an older man feel after losing all seven family members, including a six-month-old, in one single incident? With what strength do parents carry on with life when both their teenagers go to movies and never come back alive? Do we need to watch this? It's dark, morbid and not one bit entertaining in its true sense. But just like 'Rain Man', 'Philadaelphia' or 'Erin Brockovich', 'Trial by Fire' is inspiring in its own way and a serious conversation that we must not avoid.

Because 'Trial by Fire' is real, very real.

For the unversed, the series is based on a real-life incident, in New Delhi's Uphaar Cinema, in 1997. One of the biggest blockbusters of the year, 'Border' got released, marking India's 50th Independence. And like most cinema halls of that season, Uphaar too got a houseful audience.

The cinema had a technical malfunction on that morning, but they covered it with minor repairs. The blotched-up job later led to a massive fire in a cinema hall with people more than its capacity, with no fire-safety measures and doors to balcony locked from outside to serve VIP guests.

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Fifty-nine audience members were killed, and 108 were injured in the 1997 Uphaar Cinema fire. A couple, Neelam & Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, smelled foul play and set out to seek justice for their dead children. It took the courts 25 years to sentence the Ansal brothers, owners of the property, to a 7-year jail in 2021, which later got reduced to 6 months. The last hearing of this ongoing case was only days back, January 11, 2023.

This Netflix series, based on the book of the same name written by Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, is a must-watch mainly because of the outstanding acting by the lead actors, excellent direction and also because of the social topics it deals with.

And after watching the first episode of this series, if you choose not to come back for the rest of this morbid tale of an unfair world - the close-up face of Rajshri Deshpande's Neelam Krishnamoorthy in the mirror will sure haunt you untill you come back for the rest. You'd start articulating all the unspoken dialogues she had communicated in those few minutes merely with her eyes and facial expressions. You'll come back to watch how Abhay Deol, one of the most talented actors of this time, has outdone himself as Shekhar Krishnamoorthy in such an understated way that we forget that he's, after all, only acting.

Unlike many other directors, Prashant Nair and Randeep Jha didn't treat their audience like idiots. In the entire series, there is not a single unnecessary background music, any over-explanation or unnecessary verbalisation of situations. And no attempt at political propaganda. Truth, simple, burning truth, just as it is, will be so refreshing that you'll be hooked to the rest of the series.

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A tragedy as big as this often ends up separating a couple. This was perhaps the biggest battle that the Krishnamoorthy's won with true love, empathy and tolerance for each other. And this has been brilliantly portrayed in this retelling.

In one scene, Shekhar hides his dead son's birthday cake which arrived accidentally, from Nilam. Nilam, in her turn, hides the kids' toothbrushes from Shekhar to protect each other from more heartaches. When they both realised this, alost simultaneously, the love and empathy in their eyes reminded me of the 'Gift of the Magi'.

Ashish Vidyarthi's layered character shows a sublime redemption in the end, hinting slightly towards the hands of God or Karma.

However, of the many subplots in 'The Trial by Fire', only that of the electricity board mechanic played by Rajesh Tailang, who was made to take the fall for the accident, seemed adequately blended in with the main plotline.

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Ratna Pathak Shah and Anupam Kher's storyline was different from the actual event, as we had read in the news, and to me, it did not add any value to the series.

Overall, 'Trial by Fire' is a poignant tale filled with pathos and tragedies. But a must-watch nonetheless. Because disasters are not always fiction, don't necessarily only happen to others and are not one-off accidents.

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