The Delhi High Court on Thursday refused to stay the release of the upcoming Netflix series “Trial By Fire”, which is based on the 1997 Uphaar Cinema fire tragedy.
Earlier, the court reserved its ruling on a petition filed by real estate magnate Sushil Ansal seeking a temporary halt to the streaming of the series, expected to be launched on January 13.
A single-bench judge of Justice Yashwant Varma was dealing with the case seeking interim relief.
Ansal had filed a suit seeking permanent and mandatory injunction against the series and a restraint of further publication and circulation of the book titled “Trial By Fire – The tragic tale of the Uphaar Tragedy” by Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, who lost their two young children in the 1997 catastrophe.
In November 2021, a Delhi court sentenced Gopal Ansal and his brother Sushil Ansal to seven years in prison each for tampering with evidence. However, the sessions court lowered it to the already completed period in July of last year, and thus they were released after serving little over eight months of the total sentence.
Neelam Krishnamoorthy also serves as the chairperson of the Association of the Victims of the Uphaar Tragedy, which has fought long and hard for justice against the Ansals.
Representing Ansal, senior advocate Siddharth Aggarwal had stated that Ansal’s real name is used three times in the trailer, hurting his reputation and other rights, despite the series’ warning that it is a piece of fiction.
In response, Justice Varma had said: “This may be their critique of their judgment and anguish of the parents, but it cannot be a claim for defamation.”
Ansal’s counsel also said: “Today the only glimpse we have into what’s going to be released is the book which makes it clear that I’ve gotten away scot free.
“What we have today is more than a prima facie basis to make an allegation that the movie is going to be a mischaracterisation of me, the process and judgments.”
Senior advocate Rajiv Nayar appearing for Netflix had submitted: “On September 19, 2016 the book was released. On December 18, 2019, there are news reports that a web series is going to be created. On November 8, 2021, the plaintiff was sentenced to 7 years with Rs 2.25 crore fine, widely reported by the media.
“There is an appeal in the sessions court and in July, conviction is upheld but reduces the sentence for the period already undergone. This is all in the public domain. But what’s more significant is the date of December 14, 2022 where we announce that we’re going to have web series from January 13. On December 14, our intention to screen it on January 13 is shown to the press. And this plaintiff knocks on the door at the last minute.”
Senior advocate Vikas Pahwa had argued on behalf of Krishnamoorthy that Ansal was previously aware of the book’s publishing because it was mentioned in a 2012 plea presented to the Supreme Court.
Responding to this, Nayar had argued: “I have to interject. I didn’t know about this. A gentleman who tampers with evidence, who was convicted for section 304A, should now be convicted for perjury? Complete misrepresentation of fact.”
Ansal has contended that the publication of the contested series will further harm him and will constitute a major violation of his fundamental rights, particularly his right to privacy.
He also claimed in the lawsuit that he had apologised to the victims’ families in front of the Supreme Court and expressed regret for the terrible incident.
Additionally, he claims that after learning that the contested series is based on the contested book, he purchased a copy of it and was shocked to find that it contained a one-sided narration of the unfortunate incident.