The middle-class Indian man doesn’t realize his helplessness and absolute insignificance until he has to go up against the rich and powerful to seek justice for the crimes of the latter. The Krishnamoorthys of Delhi felt a very similar kind of helplessness when they tried to seek justice for the deaths of their children, Ujjwal and Unnati, who, along with 57 others, died inside the Uphaar cinema hall on June 13, 1997. After several doors closed in their faces as assistance from the authorities seemed impossible—even for people with similar grievances—they finally achieved a breakthrough with the A.V.U.T.—Association for the Victims of the Uphaar Tragedy. Netflix’s 2023 release “Trial by Fire” presents the decades-long hardships that the family members of the victims underwent in hopes that justice would prevail one day. The third episode of “Trial by Fire” opens in the wake of the formation of A.V.U.T. and the consequences of misdeeds starting to befall the ones guilty.
A Ray Of Hope?
“Trial by Fire” Episode 3 begins with a sense of urgency as multiple arrests are made, and people linked to the Uphaar cinema hall fire are sent behind bars. Most notably, Sushil Ansal of the Ansal brothers—the owners of the fated cinema hall—is arrested along with the others. This proves that the Indian police can achieve a lot if they’re given free rein instead of being restrained by the wishes of the higher-ups. With the culprits being shoved behind bars, Mr. K.T.S. Tulsi informs the A.V.U.T. members that Gopal, too, will be arrested before long. Shekhar begins discussing the details of the memorial service for everyone who died at Uphaar, while Tulsi tells Neelam that instead of waiting until Gopal is arrested, they need to get on with their lives. But returning to their lives isn’t so easy, and Shekhar and Neelam lie in bed with distant looks in their eyes and a noticeable gap between them. The bell starts ringing, and Shekhar opens the door to find a delivery executive with the birthday cake they had ordered for Ujjwal. Neelam starts gathering clothes because Shekhar says it’s the laundryman at the door—he doesn’t have the heart to tell a mother that it’s a birthday cake for her dead son. Before she can come with the clothes, Shekhar shoves the cake below the sink and also rips off every note stuck to the fridge that would serve as a reminder of their son’s birthday.
Elsewhere, the lawyer, who had seemed more worried about the Ansals’ plight while speaking to the Krishnamoorthys, barks orders at Neeraj Suri (Ashish Vidhyarthi), the dry fruit dealer, to emphasize the need to pressurize the A.V.U.T. members into taking the case back. Suri—an enforcer for the lawyer—makes arrangements to make the Goswamis’ lives difficult while the lawyer looks to take care of the Krishnamoorthys himself. Mrs. Goswami soon finds out the repercussions of going up against corrupt businessmen like the Ansals when her son is suspended from school without reason, and her husband is terminated from his job. She finds a gift packet of dry fruits from Suri, calls him and demands that he stop harassing her family. A brief glimpse into Suri’s life shows he’s a family man and brings gifts for his son, and prepares to leave with his wife for an important meeting while Mrs. Goswami blares on over the phone. The meeting in question is with a homeowner of a bungalow in a posh residence, and his wife tries her best to communicate in English to present themselves as respectable members of society. The homeowner seems skeptical but asks them to deposit the check, while repeated phone calls distract Suri. Inside their car, the lawyer uses expletives to threaten Suri against hanging up on him ever again and demands that he show up at the office with positive news immediately.
The Rising Tension
At the Krishnamoorthy residence, Neelam can’t bear the sight of the toothbrushes of her dead children and hides them under towels. She finds the cake that Shekhar had hidden below the sink and puts it inside the fridge. Shekhar prepares to leave for work while humming a tune as Neelam stares at him, anger bubbling beneath the surface. He later finds the cake inside the cake and realizes that his wife knows, but before he can talk with her, the lawyer on the Ansal payroll invites the Krishnamoorthys to his office. Inside his chamber, the lawyer tries coercing the couple into dropping the charges in exchange for a state-of-the-art trauma center being built in Delhi at the Ansals’ expense. A shrewd lawyer, he tries playing on their pain by hinting that this hospital will hopefully help prevent any other parent from undergoing similar trauma. He even takes it a step further by suggesting that the hospital can be dedicated to the victims of the Uphaar fire, or Ujjwal andUnnati, if it so pleases their parents. On their way home, Shekhar and Neelam have an argument, and each parent is right in their own way. While Neelam feels angry that Shekhar entertained the lawyer by learning of their offer, Shekhar feels that they need to discuss it with the rest of the association. While she cannot think of her children without wanting to see the ones responsible behind bars, he wishes to find peace and remember his children fondly. Neelam blurts out that her actual grievance is that Shekhar was humming a tune on the birthday of his dead son.
After the Krishnamoorthys’ departure, Suri arrives and gets an earful from the lawyer, who presents his true colors to a person he considers beneath him. He demands that he fix the mess that the A.V.U.T. members have created and also asks him not to show his face again at the lawyer’s office, because he’s a lowly thug. At his home, Suri starts questioning his actions and expresses guilt at tormenting the victims further, but his wife—blind with dreams of climbing the social ladder—chides him for showing weakness and demands that he do what’s necessary to make their future secure. That night, Suri calls up an underling while the news announces that the Ansal brothers have denied all allegations and promise to seek justice for themselves. The following day, the Goswamis are assaulted by thugs. At the meeting, several members are missing, and the available ones seem to start losing interest when Tulsi arrives and informs that the Central Bureau of Investigation has taken over the case, and that it might be a very good thing for A.V.U.T. Meanwhile, Suri learns that the thugs he had sent to scare the Goswamis have actually assaulted them, and he begins panicking. As his wife starts badgering him, he finally shouts at her before storming off to the Goswami residence. He enters their home to find Mr. Goswami covered in bandages and badly injured, and the couple pleads and requests for him to leave as he keeps beseeching them to hear his piece. Despite his repeated attempts to explain that he didn’t want anyone to get hurt, Mrs. Goswami bawls as he pleads with Suri not to hurt them anymore. Outside, Suri brutally beats a man whose car had bumped into Suri’s—finally letting go of the pent-up frustration of being villainized by everyone and becoming the man everyone was afraid of.
‘Trial By Fire’ Episode 3: Ending
Neelam and Shekhar finally make peace, and they quietly enjoy the cake for their son’s birthday and go to sleep hugging each other. The memorial service begins as Smt. Shubha Mudgal performs a heartbreaking song that moistens every pair of eyes in the audience. Tulsi received an update that the C.B.I. has reduced every charge that was slapped on the Ansals. Three scenes play simultaneously – Sushil Ansal arrives at the office amidst a deafening roar of applause for his triumphant return, and the Suris move into their magnificent new bungalow and introduce themselves to their new neighbors as the real footage of the Uphaar fire, demonstrating the fullest impact on the victims’ lives plays. The A.V.U.T. members light candles and weep at the memories of all who were lost in the fire, and it’s aptly clear that they will have to wait a long time until justice arrives.
The ending of “Trial by Fire” Episode 3 takes a grim turn as the criminals and the accessories to the crime return to a round of applause while the ones who lost everything are left to weep and offer candles. As if the fire didn’t do enough harm, the hired thugs of the people who keep men like Ansal in power silenced the ones who raised their voices through brute force. If bribes don’t work to keep someone from speaking out, then smashing their car and breaking their bones seem to work for thugs. The third episode of “Trial by Fire” offers a deeper look into the corruption that led to the reduction of charges against people responsible for the deaths of 59 people simply because they are business tycoons who have an immense reach. It also explores the relationship between Shekhar and Neelam and how, after months of fighting and trauma, the two finally close the gap between them and bond over the birthday cake of their son.