Saturday, January 21, 2023

Trial by Fire

Trial by Fire (2023, India, 7 episode Series)

Trial by Fire (Netflix) is a gut-wrenching depiction of a real-life harrowing tragedy that could been completely avoided. A series of small negligent and dangerous practices by the Uphaar cinema owners and management led to a fire that caused the death of 59 people and injury to hundreds of others. As the series shows, the age group of the almost 900 people that attended that fatal film screening on June 13, 1997 ranged from a newborn baby to young children, teenagers, adults and seniors. All these people were taking part in the cinema viewing ritual that is commonplace in India, more so than in many other nations. Yet, as the series shows, the cinema was a caged trap that could have caused a tragedy on any given day.

The series also highlights the cost of justice that people have to go through, putting their whole life on hold to fight a system that favours the rich. This sadly is not only true of India but the rest of the world as well, including North America. Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy spent almost 25 years fighting a system that never delivered the justice they sought. The series is brilliantly acted, scripted and features an array of smart  technical flourishes that humanizes victims and some of whom inadvertently played a part in the fire.

On a personal note, I am familiar with Uphaar cinema as I used to attend this cinema growing up. I have a few memories of my grandfather taking me to see films here. I knew of the fire but didn’t know the full story until now.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Sidney Lumet's Network

The rage. The ever increasing rage that has been increasing across the world over the last decade. The rage increased its speed after the 2016 US presidential election and truly accelerated in 2020 at the start of the pandemic and hasn’t let up since then. Certain politicians, media, TV hosts encourage this rage and profit off it. Some of these politicians take that most fascist of approaches where they tell their fans that only they can solve all the problems of society, problems which are always the other party's fault. A lot of TV networks have long dispensed with news. Instead, they fill their air time with angry hosts giving out opinions and asking people to get angry, get very angry. Yet, this angry TV host first appeared in a scripted film, almost three decades ago.

Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976) is a brilliantly acted, scripted and directed film. The film is labeled a satire yet given the rage of last few years, the film can be considered a documentary of our times. Over the last decade, certain TV networks have constantly ensured that their hosts are always ANGRY and promoted rage. The blueprint for these shows and their methods can be found in Lumet’s film which shows how an upcoming TV show programmer Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) wants to program a show with Howard Beale (Peter Finch) for the sole reason that she believes Howard’s on-air anger will get their TV network more viewers and improve their market share. As Howard continues to let loose his anger on the show, people tune in and Diana is proven right. Things take a turn when Howard directs his anger at the wrong people thereby threatening a corporate deal. Howard is put in his place by the TV exec Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty) who explains how the world works and Howard’s place in it. Of course, Arthur Jensen uses anger, immense anger, to get his message across thereby even scaring Howard. Jensen's anger is also in keeping with our times in showing that free speech is acceptable only when it is used against one's opponents.