Meet Rajshri Deshpande Who Wowed Audiences As The Protagonist Of Trial By Fire

Rajshri Deshpande, who played the fiery protagonist in Trial by Fire along with Abhay Deol speaks of her journey and her social work.

Rajshri Deshpande as the protagonist in ‘Trial by Fire’, the recent Netflix show has received raving reviews along with the show itself for its sensitive portrayal of the Uphaar Cinema Hall fire tragedy, 1997 and its aftermath.

The limited series is based on the book by the same name written by Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, who lost both their children in the tragedy. We got an opportunity to interview Rajshri Deshpande who played Neelam Krishnamoorthy, the woman who has been relentlessly crusading in the court for holding the owners responsible for the sheer negligence.

Rajshri Deshpande is more than an actor. She is also a social warrior, the rare celebrity from the film industry who has also gone back to her roots to give to poverty struck farming villages in her native Marathwada, with her NGO Nabhangan Foundation. Of course a chance to speak with her one on one was a must!

A show based on a real tragedy with living victims

We all know Rajshri Deshpande for her memorable performance in Sacred Games, Angry Indian Goddesses, Fame Game, and Choked, among so many others. But how did she transform herself to portray the challenging role of a woman who lost two children, and whose struggle in court had to be depicted for a span of 25 years?!

Rajshri prepared herself by reading the book, Trial by Fire.

Rajshri believes that as an actor she draws inferences from everything going around her, and from her memory. Further, the show was shot during the pandemic, and it made Rajshree look at things from the perspective of finding a solution to unpredictable problems in life. Rajshri also gave credit to the entire team of Trial by Fire who handled the production with utmost sincerity and sensitivity.

It must have also been tough for her to know that Neelam Krishnamoorthy would watch the show, and when I asked her what her worst fear was, Rajshri said that she wanted the emotional truth to come across in every frame of her portrayal. She wanted to do justice to Neelam’s 25 years of struggle.

“Her (Neelam’s) validation was important.” said Rajshri. I am not surprised that Neelam Krishnamoorthy loved Rajshri’s portrayal. “Even her friends said after watching the show it was as if it was Neelam on screen.” Rajshri recollected with a sense of satisfaction.

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“If you stand up today, at least tomorrow some will not have to go through that,” says Rajshri Deshpande

One of the reasons that made Rajshri’s performance credible was that she truly believed in the cause that Ms. Krishnamoorthy was fighting for.

The Krishnamoorthys – the real life ones and the screen ones. Image source: Abhay Deol Instagram

“She (Neelam) is not fighting for herself. She is fighting for all of us!” Rajshri said.

Rajshri did not like to refer to the incident as an “accident”. She said that there were underlying issues such as lack of safety measures, greed and power. “Ultimately the common man is the one who suffers and the rich and powerful get away by paying.”

She expressed her concern of how we are naïve enough to visit a cinema hall to unwind, assuming that we would be safe. We do not check if there are fire extinguishers. “We trust and take things for granted.” She said thoughtfully.

It is only when something terrible happens that we wake up to action. Why wait for the worst!

OTT – A platform that recognizes characters and not stars

Almost all of the work I have seen of Rajshri’s has been on OTT.  I wanted to know her views on OTT and how it has changed the movie industry.

“OTT is a layered thing which works on content.” said Rajshri. She explained how OTT started with a longer format and therefore needed more characters. She said that cinema was following a “star system” and that it was difficult for actors like her to get space over there. OTT instead was a space that could convey something in a better way than cinema and as people started liking it more streaming platforms came on board.

However, Rajshri believes cinema has its own charm. She wishes though that multiplexes would become more affordable for the middle class. “Imagine a middle class family enjoying the day with popcorn and ice-cream,” she said fondly, though the irony is not lost on us, considering the theme of Trial by Fire.

When I asked her if she regrets doing any of her movies / shows, Rajshri said that she has been very selective about her work. Whatever work she has got she has worked hard for it. She is proud of all her work and there are absolutely no regrets!

“Me Too is more than an urban phenomenon – who asks rural women?”

Rajshri said that the “Me Too” movement in film industry is known because it is a glamour industry and people talk about it. But it is happening everywhere. It is having in the corporate sector. It is happening in the sugarcane industry.

“How many reporters go to rural areas and ask women if they are going through something similar?” Rajshri demanded.

A conscientious person, Rajshri however, said that we cannot just keep on saying women are not safe. We should be there to support and stand up for other women. It may take a lot of time for women to actually speak up and share their misery. She said that we need to create a safe space for all of us. “That is why is it important that we have to hold each other’s hand”.

Rajshri’s effort towards social work at grassroots level

Image source: Nabhangan Foundation

Rajshri Deshpande comes from Marathwada, a poorer part of Maharashtra. When asked how she came to be in an acting career despite her fairly orthodox roots, Rajshri very candidly replied that she went the route of doing law like children most middle class families did – focusing on education – and then slowly built up to an acting career.

Speaking of her roots – when Rajshri talks about uplifting others, it is something she actually practices in real life. Rajshri’s empathy and responsibility towards society is what made her start her NGO – the Nabhangan Foundation in Marathwada through which she works for the welfare of farmers in rural Maharashtra. She also works towards the upliftment of women in rural areas through education, as well as better facilities for children in schools. “Every child has the right to quality education”, she says here.

Image source: Nabhangan Foundation

Rajshri spoke about the various issues in rural India such as lack of basic infrastructure and healthcare. The patriarchal mindset further hinders the development of women who still have to seek their husband’s/ father’s/ sons’ permission before making any decision for themselves, and Rajshri always insists that the women be called into any discussion every time when she meets with the farmers.

Image source: Nabhangan Foundation

She spoke passionately at length about how rural India is neglected and that is where she focuses her efforts. Rajshri faces multiple issues running the foundation as volunteers who started with enthusiasm end up leaving for multiple reasons, and financially also it requires a lot of commitment. But the obstacles have not deterred Rajshri from supporting the causes she believes in.

How does Rajshri Deshpande do it all?

I asked Rajshri how she manages her social work along with her professional commitments.  That was an easy one for her. She said she takes breaks in between her work and that is what makes her rejuvenate.

“This is our Riyaz. Our Riyaz is to be with society. To meet people. Observe people. That is how we create characters!” If she wanted to work every single day, she could have taken up a 9 to 5 job, she added with a laugh.

Rajshri Deshpande’s choice of work both in her profession and social sector reminds me of the famous quote by Edward Everett Hale. “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

The team of Women’s Web congratulates Rajshri Deshpande for her professional achievements as well as her zest to give back to society, a quality that definitely makes her stand out from the rest.

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About the Author


I like to write about the problems that have plagued the Indian society. I feel that the concept of gender equality is still alien , and that has been the focus of my articles and posts. read more...

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