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Trial By Fire

Farhad Dalal
By-
Farhad Dalal
Rating
4.5 Star popcorn reviewss

Introduction

Onto the next release of the weekend and I have finished watching the new Hindi series Trial By Fire which is streaming on Netflix. There is always something about Abhay Deol that has managed to draw the audience towards his work. The creative choices which he did make long back even when OTT platforms were not a thing, are still talked about today. As a result, each time he comes with a new venture, there is always a sense of uniqueness to it, no matter how good or bad the product eventually turns out. And this time, when he did return with a show on a true event, it had me excited.

The trailer of Trial By Fire really did seem promising, a show based on true events transpiring in 1997. Event based series or films can always be a tricky proposition, simply from the point of view of depicting the events accurately. I was reading about the Uphaar Cinema tragedy prior to watching the series and it did seem almost claustrophobic in the way the events were mentioned in the article. It did seem so gut-wrenching that to replicate the same onscreen for the same kind of impact wpuld have been a challenge right away. Keeping that it mind and with a lot of hope, I did venture into the series Trial By Fire. Does it manage to impress, lets find out.

Story & Screenplay

Based on true events and on a novel written by the protagonists of the series(Shekhar and Neelam Krishnamurthy), Trial By Fire follows the story behind the parents of the deceased children seeking for justice for over two decades after a terrible mishap at a theatre in Delhi. The story is just so hard-hitting that it would linger on long after the series has ended. And it is not for the faint-hearted! The screenplay standing at 7 episodes of 40 odd minutes does keep the proceedings consistently engaging and engrossing, punching you exactly where it hurts the most!

The drama opens to a scene featuring the family of the protagonists who are having a good time together. We see the father playing a video game, while the kids are getting ready to watch the film ‘Border’ at a theatre near them. Soon, the character of the mother joins her hubby in playing the video game in what did seem like a happy beginning. But this was only the lull before the storm as the very next scene was almost cut out of nowhere and filled with chaos. As you grapple into understanding on what events have transpired, it suddenly does strike you that the core event of Uphaar Cinema being set ablaze following a transformer failure has already occured. Your interests are immediately piqued in this heart-stopping and gut-wrenching drama.

One of the worst things that could fall upon parents is to see their children die in front of them. And this very sentiment was brilliantly captured in the series. At first, it was almost like¬† disbelief on the part of the mother followed by unwittingly questioning the fate of her neighbours’ children(who got home alive post the incident). The proceedings are powerful and quite rooted to reality. There are no over-the-top sequences which would add mountains of melodrama to the proceedings. But because the sentiments are subtle, they hit you that much more harder.

After a point, the story unfolds on two parallel tracks, one following the obstacles and challenges of the protagonists with respect to the law and the authorities. The other providing individual tracks featuring various stakeholders around the time of the tragedy. The drama focuses on the failure of the authorities in fast tracking certain pertinent cases too, something which was also shown in the recently released Malayalam film Saudi Vellakka. All this while the spirit of the protagonists despite taking a beating everytime, and sacrificing their personal lives, does live on to fight another day. It is almost searing seeing the odds tilted in favour of the side that holds more moolah as opposed to the law taking its course over a period of time. The events are profound and thought-provoking.

The drama doesn’t offer any respite throughout its runtime. The constant parallel timelines allows the viewers to form their own perspectives without landing any judgement. Yet, the final episode is dedicated to the manner in which the tragedy did unfold. And the scenes will make you squirm in your seats while firmly covering your eyes. In artistic terms, it doesn’t mince any words as it keeps going on and on and without any remorse or respite. It is so tragic to witness these events that do get shocking after a point and unwatchable(simply because they are so realistic). The jolt that you get while witnessing these events may scar you for a very long time. For me personally, these were the most difficult 40 minutes that I had to sit through any show. The final act too is melancholic in many ways summing up a screenplay which is gut-wrenching and absolutely brilliant!

Dialogues, Music & Direction

The dialogues are conversational yet make for a lasting impact. The music featuring one song depicting the mood of the protagonists, fits perfectly in the drama. The BGM is splendid as well and blends excellently with the drama. The cinematography and the colour grading paint a grim picture thereby capturing the vibe of the drama just so well. The director’s chair is shared by 3 individuals – Prashant Nair, Randeep Jha and Avani Deshpande and the direction is phenomenal here! There are so many moments created in a rather sensitive manner that absolutely slams you off your chair. And for that, along with the engaging proceedings, the direction deserves distinction marks.

Performances

The performances by the ensemble cast are absolutely brilliant. Shilpa Shukla as Shalini and Ashish Vidyarthi as Neeraj Suri have their moments to shine. The former is wonderfully restrained and the latter has a subtle character arc that he pulls off with utmost dignity. Veterans Anupam Kher, Atul Kumar, Ratna Pathak Shah and Rajesh Tailang are absolutely pitch perfect. Shardul Bharadwaj in the first of his twin weekend releases as Umesh is outstanding here. Nimisha Nair as Amrita is wonderful to watch. But the show does belong to Abhay Deol and Rajshri Deshpande who are absolutely wonderful to watch. The former is such a natural onscreen right from his mannerisms and body language that he absolutely nails his character. The latter expresses her pain so beautifully through her eyes that almost look through your soul. It was a gut-wrenching performances of a lifetime by Rajshri, an acting masterclass that stays with you long after the series has ended!

Conclusion

Trial By Fire may well be the best series of 2023 already, a drama that will linger on and force you to keep thinking about it, long after it has ended. Available on Netflix and Highly Highly Highly Recommended!

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