Created by Kevin Luperchio and Prashant Nair, Netflix’s Indian series ‘Trial by Fire’ follows Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, the parents of Unnati and Ujjwal, two of the victims of the Uphaar Cinema fire tragedy. After the deaths of their children, the couple commences an intricate legal battle against Sushil and Gopal Ansal, the brothers who own Uphaar Cinema. In reality, Neelam and Shekhar formed an organization to hold the Ansals accountable in a court of law. The couple’s efforts even led the brothers to prison. If you are wondering what happened to the Ansals, here’s everything you need to know!
Who Are Gopal and Sushil Ansal?
Gopal and Sushil Ansal were the owners of Uphaar Cinema, where a fire reportedly caused by the improper maintenance of the electric transformer led to the death of fifty-nine individuals on June 13, 1997. The Ansal brothers, real-estate tycoons, operated several establishments under the parent company Ansal Theatres and Club Hotels Pvt Ltd. at the time. After the tragedy which caused the deaths of their two children, Unnati and Ujjwal, Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy formed the Association of Victims of Uphaar Fire Tragedy (AVUT) and started a legal battle against the Ansals and multiple Delhi governmental bodies.
In November 1997, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) charged Gopal, Sushil, and fourteen others with charges of death by negligence, endangering life, and relevant provisions of the Cinematography Act, 1952. In 2003, Delhi High Court found the Ansals and several other governmental bodies guilty of negligence and asked them to compensate the families of the victims with ₹25 crores, out of which 55% was asked to pay by the brothers (The Supreme Court of India reduced the compensation amount in 2011).
The Delhi Police also filed an evidence-tampering case against Gopal, Sushil, and numerous others, charging them with charges of criminal conspiracy, causing the disappearance of evidence or giving false information to screen offenders, and criminal breach of trust. In 2007, Gopal, Sushil, and twelve other individuals were convicted for various charges, including death by a negligent act, to get sentenced to two years of rigorous imprisonment.
Since the offense was bailable, the Ansal brothers weren’t taken into custody. In 2015, the Supreme Court of India issued a verdict that the Ansals’ jail terms would be reduced to terms already undergone if they paid a fine of ₹30 crores each, which was severely criticized by Neelam, Shekhar, and their organization AVUT.
Where Are Gopal and Sushil Ansal Today?
In November 2021, a Delhi court sentenced Gopal and Sushil Ansal to seven years in prison, along with a fine of ₹2.25 crores, in the aforementioned evidence-tampering case. “I think it is very hard to reach out to this decision given the complexities involved. After some thinking over some nights and nights, I have come to this conclusion that they deserve punishment,” judge Pankaj Sharma said about the verdict.
However, a Delhi court issued a verdict for the release of Gopal and Sushil on July 19, 2022, upon considering their age. “We empathize with you (Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy chairperson Neelam Krishnamoorti). Many lives were lost, which can never be compensated. But you must understand that penal policy is not about retribution. We have to consider their (Ansals) age. You have suffered, but they have also suffered,” Judge Dharmesh Sharma explained the verdict.
Neelam Krishnamoorthy raised her dissatisfaction concerning the verdict to the judge by expressing, “This is complete injustice. We cannot have faith in the judiciary if the accused is rich and powerful… I made a mistake by coming to court. The system is corrupt,” at the court. When Netflix’s ‘Trial by Fire’ materialized, Sushil Ansal reportedly went to court to stay the release of the series on the grounds of defamation. As per reports, he also wanted to restrain the further publication of Neelam and Shekhar’s eponymous book, which serves as the source text of the series.
On January 12, 2023, a Delhi court rejected Sushil’s plea. Meanwhile, Gopal requested the renewal of his passport, which led the Delhi High Court to seek replies from the Delhi Police and AVUT concerning the same. Since the 83-year-old Sushil and 74-year-old Gopal are currently free men, Neelam and Shekhar have ensured that their fight for justice continues. While Sushil is the chairman of Ansal API, Gopal is the chairman of Ansal Buildwell Limited, two companies with a significant presence in the real estate scene in the country.