Abhay Deol, Rajshri Deshpande unpack Netflix hit Trial by Fire

The Netflix series Trial by Fire, which began streaming on January 13, has become a hit for the service, ranking in the top 10 in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Based on the book of the same name by Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, the series chronicles the 25-year fight for justice of the couple whose daughter and son were among 59 people killed in a fire caused by negligence at the Uphaar cinema in Delhi in June . 13th, 1997.

In 2018 the book was selected by Sidharth Jain’s book-to-screen company The Story Ink, who quickly landed the Krishnamoorthys an offer for the rights. However, after meeting the Krishnamoorthys in person, Jain changed his mind.

“I realized that this is no ordinary story. I can’t treat this like any other book to screen deal. The story had to be told responsibly and sensitively. So after much deliberation I canceled the deal and decided to develop and produce this myself. I connected with the Krishnamoorthys on a very emotional level and they trusted me blindly. I couldn’t abandon them or simply give up the rights for commercial gain. It had to come from the heart,” Jain said diversity.

Jain spent a year figuring out how the issue needed to be addressed and concluded that it needed an international style of treatment that was low key, sensitive and not overly dramatic. At the time, Prashant Nair, director of the Sundance-winning Umrika and Tribeca-winning Tryst With Destiny, had just directed episodes of the Amazon Prime Video series Made in Heaven.

Nair was moved by Krishnamoorthy’s book but did not immediately see a series there. Nonetheless, he was drawn to the subject and joined the project as showrunner and lead director. “The incredible resilience and steadfastness of the Krishnamoorthys – to be able to stand up after such an unimaginable and devastating loss and fight for justice for over 25 years against a system designed to wear you down – I felt we could all find it Even a fraction of that strength and determination, the world would be a different place. Furthermore, public safety and the justice system are fundamental pillars of any functioning society, and this story sheds light on the urgency of reform in both areas,” Nair said diversity.

At the same time, The Story Ink and Endemol Shine India put together a number of projects for a co-production and the latter jumped on the project. And it was suggested to Monika Shergill, who at the time recently joined Netflix India as Content Head, and it was an instant yes from her.

For Nair and his co-creator Kevin Luperchio, coming up with a structure was complicated because the case is pending, it spanned 25 years, there were no twists and turns, and the main foe was inertia and stagnation in the Indian court system. Around 50 million cases are pending today. Knowing that the Krishnamoorthys would still fight, the structure was designed with time skips and multiple perspectives around it. The book has been supplemented with several meetings with the Krishnamoorthys, research, interviews, court documents, government reports and the inclusion of the stories of all the other lives touched by the incident.

Experienced leads were selected, known for globally acclaimed performances. Rajshri Deshpande, known for Sexy Durga, Manto, Angry Indian Goddesses and Sacred Games, plays Neelam Krishnamoorthy. Abhay Deol, whose diverse career starred in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Dev.D, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Shanghai stars Shekhar Krishnamoorthy. Nair knew he didn’t want his actors to use prosthetics or mimic the Krishnamoorthys, so no meeting with the real characters took place prior to filming.

Rajshri Deshpande, Abhay Deol – “Trial by Fire”

Deol was referring to the dynamic between the pair, with Neelam being vocal and passionate and Shekhar being quiet and seemingly calm and collected. “I had to find the tragedy of his loss. I had to find the sense of alienation he felt. And I had to play the dynamic that he shares with his wife,” Deol said diversity.

Deshpande added, “I went through a journey where I actually believed this was happening to me and felt this pain that this was actually happening to my family. And that’s how my processes always work – I take it so internally, because even the silence should contain your monologues, the silence should speak.”

Both actors put on some weight for their roles. “It was necessary for Neelam and that’s how you show her changing physically, but her courage is still there and she’s taking a toll on her body, she’s also taking a toll on her health, but her spirit is there,” said Deshpande.

The fire that the series revolves around is hinted at throughout, but is not fully explored until the final episode.

“The decision to show the fire was one of the most difficult. We didn’t want to take advantage of it and had a lot of doubts, but ultimately we felt that the most effective way would be to build on that at the end and have the audience relive it after hearing all the different perspectives on what it was what happened that day is linked to the outrage felt by the families of the victims. And juxtaposing it with these final images of the Krishnamoorthys still fighting after all these years would make not only an intellectual connection, but an emotional connection with the meaning of their fight,” Nair said.

Aside from viewer acceptance, “Trial by Fire” is also one of the top-rated Netflix India shows, led by a rave diversity. For the team, particularly Deol and Deshpande, the validation of the Krishnamoorthys was most important. “I wanted her approval more than anyone else,” Deol said.

Nair added, “After the show ended, we shared it with them and that was possibly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. They couldn’t see it at first – they had to turn it off after 15 minutes. But after a few weeks, they finally looked at it because they’re incredibly strong people and they knew people would talk about it. Your support of the series means more than anything.”

“Prashant Nair’s unique film style is inspirational and honest, and the incredible performances from our talented cast have created a truly compelling series. The response from critics and audiences has been phenomenal,” said Monika Shergill, VP, Content, Netflix India diversity. “Our aim was to create a series that recognizes the injustices suffered by the families of the victims of the Uphaar cinema fire tragedy and we are delighted to see the extraordinary display of solidarity, resilience and strength among our audiences in India resonated.”

Trial by Fire remains the #1 Netflix show in India.

(LR) Sidharth Jain, Neelam Krishnamoorthy, Rajshri Deshpande, Shakhar Krishnamoorthy, Abhay Deol, Prashant Nair


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