Posts Tagged Rashshri Deshpande
Trial by Fire on #Netflix – Serial Review
Posted by Darshana V. Nadkarni, Ph.D. in Hindi - Bollywood Movie Reviews, Hindi - Bollywood Movie Reviews-- Play Reviews-- NAATAK-- Poems-- Event Reports, Movie Reviews on January 15, 2023
Trial by Fire – Serial Review
Currently playing on @Netflix, seven episode series “Trial by Fire” is a true account of a horrific tragedy and is based on the book by the same name, written by Neelam and Shekhar Krishnnamoorthy. Rashshri Deshpande and Abhay Deol deliver flawless and understated performance as the couple Neelam and Shekhar who lost both of their children in the fire and smoke at Uphaar Cinema, the largest theater at the time in New Delhi, on the fateful day, Friday, June 13, 1997.
But the series does not simply revolve around the actual events. In fact, actual events of the tragedy are more in focus only in the 7th and last episode of the series. Directed by Prashant Nair and Randeep Jha, the series depicts the struggle of these parents, of other victims, their families and survivors to bring those responsible to justice. Krishnamoorthys soon found out that they could not get answers. The rich and powerful people who seemed to be responsible had a myriad ways to interfere in the investigation. Shekhar announced to his wife that they would be stronger together and they need to bring in other survivors and families seeking justice. The owners of the theater, the Ansal Brothers (Gopal Ansal & Sushil Ansal) kept a tight lid on the expenses and operated their several properties with focus on making profits under all circumstances. Under persistent leadership of grieving Krishnamoorthys, a group AVUT (Association of the Victims of Uphaar Tragedy) was formed.
Ansal brothers rarely appeared in court and employed an army of rich attorneys to fight on their behalf. They bribed, implicated others, employed people to deliver threats to anyone seeking justice. During the decades-long struggle Krishnamoorthys muddled through the cumbersome process, going through several attorneys after realizing that some attorneys were just not interested and others were often bribed by the Anals. In the process, they also uncovered several problems and the trail kept leading them to the owners. However, Ansals kept succeeding year after painful year in evading justice.
Occasionally some episodes meander through somewhat unnecessary details, but overall the series is sure to keep the audience riveted through the heart-breaking saga of grieving families. Despite the lack of success for years, through the painful process of seeking justice for their loved ones, the group manages to get success on their many additional agendas – for instance, every public school in Delhi, is henceforth required to have working fire extinguishers on every floor. Fighting through the bureaucratic process, even while mourning their loss, is no small feat. Their struggle is both immensely heart-breaking and absolutely inspiring.
Some additional facts (spoilers) & a small personal story
Uphaar Cinema fire and smoke claimed 59 lives and 100+ people had severe smoke inhalation and other injuries.
Almost 900 plus people were in the cinema hall that tragic day.
The people witnessing the event on that fateful day frantically ran with pots and pans to save lives. Others procured mattresses from the stores close by to put on the ground for those jumping out of the window.
The AVUT group fighting for answers and justice got some resolution in the last couple of years, after nearly 25 years since the fire that claimed so many lives.
During the two plus decades, since the victims group has been fighting in court, the rich and powerful Ansals employed several tricks, postponements, bribes, and threats to evade justice. They also shifted the blame down the line and that led to jail time for some and loss of jobs for others.
AVUT group’s decades-long struggle to find answers and get justice for those who perished on that fateful day uncovered many safety violations, severe disregard for public safety and single minded focus on profits. The theater had faulty transformers, no public address system in place, no emergency lights when power was out, few or no working fire extinguishers and hundreds of people in balcony were trapped inside with doors locked so no one without a ticket can get in – but that also meant the people inside had no means of escape and the entertainment hall became their tomb.
When grieving Krishnamoorthys lost their two children Unnati (17) and Ujjwal (14), they were in their 30s. Many advised them to plan more children, but they refused saying their children were not toys to be replaced. They have not seen any movies in a theater since then.
Anslas were finally sentenced in 2021 but only after 6 months they were released due to old age.
Victims were compensated about Rs. 25 crores after 25 years.
When I visited India several years ago, I had a US Green card but an Indian passport. Despite going through other countries, no one had checked that my passport had expired about a year ago. I had to renew my passport before I could return to the US. I went to the passport office in Mumbai. After standing in several lines in a crowded hall that did not have all working fans (with over 100 degrees summer heat), I managed to get access to an officer. He asked me to go there two days later on Thursday. My husband said he will never go with me unless I participate and find someone to bribe and I told him that I will get it done without bribing. He told me then I was on my own.
I went to the passport office on Thursday. Unlike my previous visit, the entrance was not busy and there were no people around. One lone guard sitting on a chair stopped me and said I could not go in. I asked why not and he said आज साहेब किसीको मिल नहीं सकते. आज पब्लिक को मिलनेका दिन नहीं है. Today Sir cannot meet anyone, today is not for the public. Seeing that he was determined to not allow me to enter, I sat down beside him, right on the pavement. He asked me – what are you doing? I said, brother can’t you see, I am sitting down next to you because I will not go back without meeting sir. He said, but I told you, he won’t meet you today. I said, don’t worry, sir is here right? In that case, I will meet him later. He said, he won’t meet you at any time today. I said, look brother, I am sure sir may go out for tea or for lunch or at least he will go home in the evening. It is 10 am and in that case I will sit here and give you company this entire day but I am not leaving until I see him. He looked at me in disbelief. Then he went inside and I saw him talk to a couple of other people. Then he returned with a piece of paper and a pen and asked me to write my name. Then he went in and came back again and told me to go in. I went in and met the officer and got my passport renewed.
In countries where things don’t work for all citizens, only the rich and powerful can live stress free lives and enjoy all kinds of benefits; have law and order work for them, justice bends to their will and they can get their tasks accomplished. For majority of the population however, everyday tasks present a multitude of challenges and there’s frustration every step of the way all the time. It takes enormous effort, persistence and high ideals to continuously struggle to live with integrity and honesty.