‘Twelve Angry Jurors’ Is A Thoughtful Play Despite A Major Weakness
Director: Nadir Khan
Writer: Reginald Rose
Cast: Deven Khote, Devika Shahani, Dhanendra Kawade, Dipika Roy, Nikhil Murali, Prerna Chawla, Rajit Kapur, Rohit Malkani, Shivani Sawant, Shivani Tanksale, Sohrab Ardeshir, Suresh Venkat
Twelve Angry Jurors stands apart from the other four Aadyam plays this season for it’s a puzzling choice. The drama is an adaptation of 12 Angry Men, a 1954 teleplay by the American writer Reginald Rose. Director Nadir Khan’s version unfolds somewhere in contemporary India in a room in which 12 individuals on jury duty must decide the conviction of an 18-year-old slum dweller being tried for the murder of his father. In his director’s note, Khan says that Rage, the theatre group that produced the play, suggested he direct 12 Angry Men. It’s a little mystifying that they chose to do adapt this play as the jury system was abolished in India in 1959. The scenario presented is not one that would play out here.
Yet the ideas represented in the drama are easily recognisable. The play alights briefly on the debate over whether juveniles can be tried as adults that has been carrying on since the 2012 Delhi rape case. The man on trial is a street tough incubated in the daily violence that is life in a slum. His father would routinely beeat him up. On the other hand, none of the jury members save one has ever lived in a slum or been privy to that kind of life. Ignorance makes some of them easily dismissive of the young man as one of “them”; they see him as a member of a monolithic tribe for whom killing comes naturally.
The drama also addresses the skewed system of justice delivery in this country. The court appointed lawyer for the young boy is so incompetent that his defence has collapsed before the prosecution even when there’s enough room for doubt over his culpability. This is a familiar state of affairs in Indian courts where poor folk who can ill afford good lawyers have to make do with indifferent or under-qualified lawyers.
The prosecution has convinced 11 of the 12 jurors, who are referred to by number, not by name, in the play. It’s left to Juror 8 (Rajit Kapur) to convince them there’s enough reason to doubt the boy’s hand in the murder. At stake is his life, as a guilty verdict will necessarily result in a death sentence. While the jurors argue, their personal prejudices become obvious. Juror 3 (Deven Khote), an aggressive, voluble fellow, is convinced the boy is guilty. His relationship with his own son could have something to do with his conviction. Juror 10 (Prerna Chawla) is also in favour of the boy hanging. Slum dwellers are despicable scum according to her. Juror 7 (Rohit Malkani) just wants his duty to get over so he can watch the match. But Juror 8 gradually succeeds in making some of the others rethink their positions.
The roles in the play are unequally weighted. Kapur is prominent as the chief doubter. Khote is a bullish presence as a combative individual used to getting his way by mowing obstacles down. Chawla succeeds is being utterly infuriating as a crass character whose repugnant views embarrass even those on her side, that is, the side voting to hang the boy. She’s so good she makes you want to swat her off stage. Suresh Venkat as Juror 4 is like that rare intelligent voice in a camp of right-wingers. He’s convinced the boy is guilty but unlike his like-minded fellows, actually bases his arguments on the evidence presented. The others are thinner, less memorable characters. Devika Shahani, for instance, is wasted as the prefect in charge of counting votes and keeping things orderly. On the whole Twelve Angry Jurors is a thoughtful play couched in a context that’s irrelevant in present times.
Twelve Angry Jurors will be staged on Saturday, June 18 at 7.30pm and Sunday, June 19 at 4pm and 7.30pm at the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, National Centre for the Performing Arts, NCPA Marg, Nariman Point. Tel: 022 2282 4567. Get directions here. Tickets priced at Rs300, Rs500, Rs750 and Rs1,000 per person are being sold on Bookmyshow.com.