The Law Cannot Be Blind Kaleidoscopeby Deepa Gahlot July 15 2016, 12:03 pm Estimated Reading Time: 2 mins, 34 secs
12 Angry Men, written by Reginald Rose in 1957 was a teleplay, converted to a film by the great Sidney Lumet. The play is one of the classics of modern theatre—a powerful comment on the legal system in the US. It’s the story of a 12-man jury that has to deliberate on a case. In America, a verdict in most criminal trials by jury must be unanimous so the guilt or innocence of the accused must be beyond reasonable doubt. The tense, one-location film is as suspenseful and it is meaningful, as it raises the possibility of an innocent men being executed, because the jury is not fully immersed in the case. Or each man beings his own biases into the proceedings.
Being dated prevents a really good play from losing its sheen—12 Angry Jurors, directed by Nadir Khan, is a reworking of Reginald Rose’s play, which has already had quite a few stage adaptations in Mumbai.
In India, the jury system was abolished in the 1960s, so the story about twelve people of disparate temperaments, age brackets and social strata thrown together in a room to decide on the fate of a young man accused of murdering his father. All evidence and witness testimonies are against him, the accused comes from a poor family and is a troublemaker; the jury wants to hand over the guilty verdict and get out of the stuffy space, but one man (Rajit Kapur) introduces an element of doubt. It is, as he argues, a matter of a human life, they owe it to the young man to give the matter due consideration.
The jury room is a microcosm of class (and if one looks closely, caste) prejudices, personal issues, bad memories and a whole lot of things that indicate that nobody can be totally objective, they would be influenced by their upbringing and past—some see boy from an underprivileged background as worthy of sacrificing for the general good, other can rustle up the compassion to allow him an opportunity to redeem himself. The way the opinions of the twelve jurors swing one way and the other, the audience see-saws its sympathy too, even though the accused remains off stage.
One of the earlier productions of the play was in Hindi, by a short-lived theatre company called Majma that was formed by graduates of the National School of Drama. It had actors like Pankaj Kapur, MK Raina, KK Raina and Annu Kapoor. Ek Ruka Hua Faisla was turned into a film by Basu Chatterjee, and after all these years, it is still worth seeing, as is the Hollywood masterpiece 12 Angry Men by Sidney Lumet. One man’s conviction makes for an evergreen classic.
It is the kind of play that can never go wrong, or to put it another way, cannot be messed up even with an amateur group of bad actors, which Nadir Khan’s version is not—it had some of the best actors from the Mumbai stage, who managed to expertly paper over any cracks that appeared.