A young man has apparently killed his father in their home. There were two eyewitnesses. A jury of 12 people drawn from varied backgrounds will go into a locked room and deliberate on the man's fate. All evidence is against him, so far. As the members start their discussion, it's clear that most have already decided that the boy is guilty and must be punished.
In the ongoing second edition of the Aadyam theatre festival being held across Mumbai and Delhi, the penultimate play to be staged at Kamani Auditorium was the 12 Angry Jurors. It's based on a film by Reginald Rose which deals with justice, inequality and social responsibility. But, at its heart the play was about accepting status quo without questioning it. Directed by Nadir Khan under the banner of RAGE Productions, the play stars several veteran actors such as Rajit Kapoor, Sohrab Ardeshir, Shivani Tanksale, Shivani Sawant.
As the first round of voting for guilty or not guilty comes up, one man's stand of 'not guilty' (all jury members have to be unanimous in their vote for it to go through) opens what the director calls a “Pandora's Box” that leads them to a “forced deliberation”. As the drama unfolds, each member has to face the facts at hand, pry open their minds to what could lie over and above them, all of which ultimately reveal the kind of person they are.
One juror is impatient to get on with the verdict only because he wants to finish in time for a match that he doesn't want to miss; another juror wants “these kind of people” to be punished because “their kind” is out to get “people like us” (read rich, educated, privileged); the third, an NRI who felt like a second-class citizen abroad, returned home recently and wants to do something meaningful in his country, starting with being a responsible juror, and so on... while one man stands steadfast in wanting to be as sure as possible before giving his vote.
No prizes for guessing how the might of one individual can reverse or change the tide, and what the search for truth can do. It also reminds one that we, as people, aren't or can't be disengaged from what we do. Our politics are our prism and vice versa. That justice, seeking to be objective, is ultimately coloured by those who dispense it. As Mahatma Gandhi said, (quoted in the director's notes for the play), "there is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts".
Even though the jury-trial system ended in India in 1960, when it's a question of deciding the fate of another human being's life, it's less about power and more about the grave responsibility of the duty. To peel off one's own layers is the hardest but the most important aspect of this process. The message of the play was about the lenses we use—consciously or subconsciously—to view the world and, therein, base our thoughts and decisions.
Strong performances, that ended on a grim note, especially by Deven Khote and Sohrab Adeshir, were commendable.
A couple of well-known lawyers of the city were seen among the audience. On the gravitas of the story—the boy's murder story and his guilt or lack of it—they didn't find it layered enough for it to cause “reasonable doubt” as a professional juror. For the rest, non-lawyers and general audience, it seemed to be well worth it.
The performance is kept in with the experiential theme of the festival. Next to a live sober piano recital, several audience members got instant polaroids clicked, holding small placard-esque blackboards, posing as, well, criminals.