Casting director Sanjeev Maurya talks about casting for Prashant Nair-directed 'Trial By Fire'. The series details the 25-year struggle for justice of the couple whose daughter and son were among the 59 people who died in a fire caused by negligence at Delhi’s Uphaar cinema on June 13, 1997
Left- Sanjeev Maurya; Right- Still from Trial By Fire
Prashant Nair-directed eight-episode series 'Trial By Fire’ on Netflix has been receiving rave reviews. Starring Abhay Deol and Rajshri Deshpande in the lead role, the series bring together an interesting ensemble cast including Ashish Vidyarthi, Ratna Pathak Shah, Shilpa Shukla, Rajesh Tailang, Atul Kumar, Anupam Kher, among others. The casting for the series was done by Sanjeev Maurya who has previously worked on projects like 'The White Tiger', 'A Suitable Boy', among others.
Abhay Deol essays the role of Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, a man who lost both his kids in a tragic fire in Delhi. Talking about casting Abhay for the role, Sanjeev Maurya told mid-day.com, “Abhay Deol is known to have an inclination towards the best of the uprising content. I believe he has a vision for deeply conflicted characters that he has played, as it seemed, effortlessly and with conviction. We had a belief in our story, and also the conviction that he’ll bring in for Shekhar Krishnamoorthy.
Rajshri Deshpande as Neelam Krishnamoorthy has also been praised for her nuanced performance as the distraught mother who pulls all stops to seek justice for her deceased kids. “Rajshri Deshpande simply came on board because of her extraordinary performance. As the story, and especially Neelam’s character was so moving, every one we tested for this character, gave their best. We saw some amazing performances in the auditions, but when we auditioned Rajshri, both Prashant and I believed in her,” said Sanjeev about casting Rajshri.
'Trial By Fire' is based on the book of the same name by Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy. The series details the 25-year struggle for justice of the couple whose daughter and son were among the 59 people who died in a fire caused by negligence at Delhi’s Uphaar cinema on June 13, 1997. “Believability was the core of the brief, as we had to make sure that people connect with the characters on a ground level,” said Maurya on what brief they got before they began their casting process.
“We were given detailed research on the Uphaar tragedy and the people involved in it. Obviously, each character came with a separate brief and description, but we did not get any scripts for them, just a project bible. And we relied on situational improvisations with the actors in the audition room to get an essence of their understanding of the character and their performances, which in itself was an amazing experience," he added.
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The lead characters of 'Trial By Fire' are of South Indian origin. While the team auditioned many actors from the South Indian industry they eventually were convinced by the performances of Abhay and Rajshri. Sanjeev, himself believes in casting people belonging to the same community as that of the characters. “Representation is an important aspect in cinema. An actor/person aligned to the beliefs of a certain community always brings in something new naturally to the character. Whom better to cast than someone from the community itself.”
Having said that, one must understand the relevance of those beliefs in the story itself. Taking the example of ‘Shekhar Krishnamoorthy’, he hails from the south of India, but has been living in Delhi for a very long time, he doesn’t have a south Indian dialect either, nor to the story any of the cultural aspects of him being a south Indian were relevant. If you look at the character as per the story, also the way we wanted the audience to perceive, it’s the story of a father who lost his kids to a tragedy. So such criticism is irrelevant in certain situations,” he added reacting to criticism of casting people outside of the characters' community.