Kamal Bhalla, the first prosecution witness and a survivor of the Uphaar fire tragedy, recalls June 13, 1997 as the darkest day of her life. The tragedy took the life of her husband, L.S. Bhalla. “I feel guilty about my surviving. I forced him to go to the movie. He was not even interested,” said Kamal, tears welling up in her eyes.
The couple had gone all the way from Delhi Cantt along with their 17-year-old daughter Payal for the noon show. “We did not get tickets anywhere nearby for the 12 pm show. So we bought the tickets for the next show at Uphaar,” said Payal.
Recalling the incident, Kamal said when they first saw the smoke near the screen they thought it to be a special effect. By the time they realised there was a fire, smoke had engulfed the hall and it was too late. “The emergency lights were not working, and the only source of light in the entire hall was the brightness of the film. A few minutes later, even that was stopped and the hall went pitch-dark. The dense smoke worsened the situation,” Kamal said.
Chaos broke out in the hall. My husband told me to hold his hand tight and stand in a corner until he finds a way for us. Those were his last words,” said Kamal. Both Kamal and Payal fainted soon after this. Kamal suffered breathing problems for years after the incident.
For Payal, it’s a loss she cannot ever come to terms. “Those were the most important years of my life. Just a few minutes before he died, he was holding my hand. I lost him at the time I needed him the most. It took us 10 years to get to this judgement. Yes, I am satisfied, but not happy,” she said.
For Kamal, her husband’s death has left a void that can never be filled.