Trial by Fire Review: A Riveting and Refined Deep-dive Into a National Tragedy

Rahul Desai

The seven-episode Netflix series is based on a book by protagonists Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, a couple who lost both their teenage children in a fire that spread through South Delhi’s Uphaar Cinema.. Through them, it details the journey of the victims’ families, who form an association and fight for justice over the next two decades.

Trial by Fire is a difficult story to tell. The tragedy is boundless, with no beginning or end. The case is endless, with the Ansal brothers – the powerful owners of Uphaar and practically half of Delhi’s late-Nineties infrastructure (including India’s first luxury mall, Ansal Plaza) – riding a wave of delayed convictions, shortened prison sentences and civil compensation suits. The void is nameless; the perpetrator is everybody and nobody.

The choice of these stories is clever, if not perfectly executed. Time is a ghost in the series; its passing is felt, rarely seen. The “villains,” in particular, are presented as cogs in a corrupt wheel. They’re common strivers suffering for the cowardice of those above them. The concept of being a victim, then, is determined by the weakness of being human.

Trial by Fire also takes the intense lane. It cuts out a lot of sensationalism and external noise, and therefore, a lot of narrative crutches. For starters, the media coverage and timeline jumps aren’t amplified.