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Trial By Fire: A Chat With Makers of the Netflix Series on the Uphaar Tragedy

In conversation with Abhay Deol, Rajshri Deshpande, Prashant Nair, and the Krishnamoorthys on the series and more.

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Multimedia Producer: Rahul Sanpui

Camerapersons: Athar Rather, Shiv Kumar Maurya, Ribhu Chaterjee

Producer: Zijah Sherwani

“Knowing what they went through… Nothing was tough in comparison,” said actor Abhay Deol about playing a bereaved parent in his latest series, Trial by Fire which released on Netflix on Friday, 13 January. 

The series is about the Uphaar fire tragedy of 1997 in which 59 people were killed, and is an adaption of a book by the same name written by Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, who had lost their two children to the fire. 

In the seven-part series, Deol essays the role of Shekhar, actor Rajshri Deshpande plays Neelam.

On Thursday, The Quint met the two actors, the Krishnamoorthys as well as the show’s director Prashant Nair for a candid chat.  

“There has been a lot of delay. In this case, it’s taken a quarter of a century. I spent my entire life and was still denied justice. I went to the courts to get justice, all I got was a judgement,” said Neelam. 

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The series also stars Ratna Pathak Shah, Anupam Kher, Rajesh Tailang and Ashish Vaidyarthi, and has been directed by Prashant Nair.  

'The Director Knew The Characters Inside Out'

During the chat, it was revealed that the actors had in fact never met the Krishnamoorthys before they began promoting the show. “The script was so well-written but the way the director explained the character to me, it felt like he knew Neelam in and out,” said Deshpande, who is best known for her roles in Pan Nalin’s film Angry Indian Goddesses, and Netflix series Sacred Games

Deol, who is known for films such as Dev DOye Lucky Lucky Oye and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, echoed a similar sentiment. He said, “When I met them, I was amazed that this dynamic that was explained to me by Prashant does exist. Neelam is so fiery and wears her heart on her sleeve. Shekhar has a grounding influence on her but also holds his intensity back within him.” 

'Broke Down When We Saw The Series'

Both Neelam and Shekhar have been at the forefront of this fight for justice since 59 people were killed in this deadly cinema hall fire in Delhi. The hall was owned by business tycoons Gopal and Sushil Ansal. 

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The Krishnamoorthys also formed the Association of Uphaar Victims (AVUT) with families of other victims. About the show, Neelam said, “It wasn’t easy. I had the show with me for 10-15 days (prior to release) and we decided not to see it. We finally put it on for 10 minutes and just stopped. The moment they show that the couple gets the news and they rush to the hospital, it was like déjà vu. I told Shekhar, ‘Forget it, I can’t watch it.’ Ten days later, we watched it. For some scenes, I had to close my eyes. I broke down. He broke down.” 

The series is peppered with moving, intimate moments of the couple grappling with grief and anger. Shekhar told The Quint, “Even today, the bedroom of Unnati and Ujjwal is the same. We haven’t even changed the mattress. Even a pencil or a pen they used is with us.” 

On being asked why Nair chose to make a series on this real-life tragedy, he said that he was inspired by the fight put up by the Krishnamoorthys. “After suffering such a devastating loss to find within themselves the resilience and the fortitude to go out there and fight knowing that it could take forever. And yet, showing up daily and in doing so, they confront their loss and their grief again and again. They refuse to back down to a system that’s almost designed to make you lose faith,” said Nair.  

In Netflix’s latest series Trial By Fire, which is based on the Uphaar fire tragedy of 1997.

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