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Stream It Or Skip It: 'Trial By Fire' On Netflix, About Two Parents Seeking Justice After The Uphaar Cinema Fire – Decider

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Trial By Fire is a fictionalized story about two parents, Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy (Rajshri Deshpande, Abhay Deol) who look for justice after their two teenage children were killed in the infamous 1997 fire at the Uphaar Cinema in Delhi. Fifty-nine people were killed in the tragedy, mostly due to smoke inhalation after being trapped by a door locked from the outside.
Opening Shot: Someone lights up a stove burner with a lighter. A woman talks to a customer on the phone.
The Gist: We see a scene of the Krishnamoorthys, a middle-upper-class family in Delhi; Shekhar is playing video games with his son, and then they have a fight with their daughter over doing her homework before going to the afternoon showing of Border. As most parents of teenagers do, Shekhar tells Neelam, “soon, they’ll be gone.”
Cut to the two of them frantically driving to the fire at the theater. They split up and go to two different hospitals, where Shekhar shockingly finds out that both of their kids were killed in the fire.
We then cut to the wake and funeral, where the shellshocked Krishnamoorthys sign papers and deal with an influx of relatives who are there to support them. The main thing that Neelam wants is answers. When she finds out that the friend that her son went to the theater with survived, she wants to talk to him, but he’s still to shaken to talk. She then goes to a TV station where a friend of her works and asks him to show her the footage of people being carried out of the fire. The whole while, she’s ignoring phone calls from Shekhar. She sees video of the theater manager, and her friend tells her where she can find him.
She gets a call from the friend’s mom, who says the boy is ready to talk. He tells her that he never got in the theater; he was late and the doors were locked. That news sets off the anger of both Neelam and Shekhar. Neelam pounds on the apartment door of the theater manager, and Shekhar visits the offices of the building’s owners, demanding to know why the doors were locked, trapping everyone inside.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Fictionalized accounts of real stories abound, like Under The Banner Of Heaven and Candy. This explores something that’s bigger in scale, but makes it personal through the story of this one family seeking answers.
Our Take: Starting with the immediate aftermath of the Uphaar Cinema fire was a smart move by Trial By Fire creators Kevin Luperchio and Prashant Nair (Nair directs the first episode). The story isn’t as much about the real-life tragedy itself as it is about families like the Krishnamoorthys, who are angry that the negligence of a big developer and property management company caused the unnecessary death of their children.
But the fire will be revisited as the Krishnamoorthys and other families pursue criminal charges and lawsuits over the ensuing decades. We wonder how anxious that will make us, but we do think it’s worthwhile to come back to the day of the fire and the events leading up to it at some point, to give viewers unfamiliar with the real story a chance to find out just what happened and the factors that caused it.
To say that the drama in this series is going to be grim may be an understatement; we know that as much as the Krishnamoorthys are trying to get justice, we also know the extraordinary sadness that surrounds that undertaking. Both Deshpande and Deol show their characters’ anger, pain and emptiness, but it also seems that the two of them stick together despite the extreme circumstances.
One particularly effecting scene happens while Neelam is out getting answers. One of the many relatives that have come to support the couple tells him that the two of them have all of their support. But he just says, “When Neelu comes back, I want you all to leave.” It’s not that he’s ungrateful for the support, but no one really knows their pain but the two of them, and that pain is going to turn to rage as they start finding out more details about the fire.
The grimness has a chance to become relentless, but we’re hoping that the fleeting victories as the families pursue those that were negligent in this case are enough to break the darkness, even if it’s only for a minute or two.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: Neelam and Shekhar watch a commercial about a new mall being built by the same developers that own the theater, and their anger is palpable.
Sleeper Star: Even though Rajshri Deshpande and Abhay Deo are the stars of Trial By Fire, their performances are still of note because of how many layers they have to display at the same time.
Most Pilot-y Line: Neelam looks at herself a long time in the mirror, then decides to cut her hair with one of her husband’s razors. Not only do we not know why, but we find it strange that no one says anything about it.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Trial By Fire is surely going to be a grim series, but it should have enough powerful moments to get people interested in the story behind this real-life tragedy.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
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