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Right off the bat, 12 Angry Jurors, the latest offering from Rage Productions, to be staged at Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) this weekend, presents us with an aesthetic for sore eyes. Based on the 1954 play by Reginald Rose, most famous in its 1957 film version as 12 Angry Men, with an all-male all-white cast, much of the drama is situated in the claustrophobic setting of a jury chamber where a dozen jurors deliberate on sending an 18-year-old boy to death row for allegedly killing his father after an altercation.

Here, the arena of debate is the fading interiors of a government office, with unremarkable furniture, a mineral water dispenser and photographs of notional national figures on the walls. Yet, Xheight Design India, a design studio responsible for the production design, brings a rare quality of opulence without ostentation. The windows double as panels for audio-visual projections—an inventive touch that allows us to eavesdrop on conversations that take place in an adjoining washroom, replete with incriminating close-ups and a sense of the clandestine. It is all too manicured to be truly confining, but given the antecedents of the material at hand, perhaps such a well-appointed mise en scène would serve masterful drama, as we are wont to expect, rather well.

The ensemble is also decidedly well-accoutred, not just in a sartorial sense, but to evoke a spectrum of “types", all seemingly drawn from the great Indian middle class. An all-white jury in the original gave us the worrying feel of “us and them", given that the defendant is almost always from the wrong side of the tracks. Here, such homogenization is absent, perhaps because this country doesn’t have a monolithic cultural identity.

Within the ensemble, there are muted, if stereotypical, markers of class and other distinctions—in the manner in which people speak English, for instance. Credible actors like Dhanendra Kawade and Devika Shahani become tokenist figures. The underrated Kawade is that stock figure in Indian English theatre; the “vernacular man" good for an Hindi insert or two in the confabulation around him. Shahani is the power-dressing “woman in charge", but she is not given enough flesh in this adaptation.

The original play has undergone several iterations over six decades, and the juries have often been mixed-gendered and multicultural. Here, director Nadir Khan has cast five women and seven men, and the 12 are all interesting actors, unflinchingly in character throughout.

The drama hinges upon how the seeds of doubt can slowly encroach upon what is ostensibly an open-and-shut case, and how irrefutable proof becomes at best circumstantial evidence when held up to unbiased scrutiny. At the outset, when the group has all but decided on a guilty verdict, a single juror, played by Rajit Kapur, holds out. In his usual masterclass fashion, Kapur is able to bring in the elements of reasonable doubt that will convert others to his position. Kapur’s natural gravitas, however, bestows upon him a perceptible halo that risks the others coming across as mere ditherers with nothing much at stake. One by one, they change position and are suffused with the glow of righteousness that comes with a not-guilty vote. This is particularly true of Dipika Roy’s character.

This underlying morality play takes away from the precision and plausibility of the arguments, because it is as if the play is already skewed towards its eventual outcome without allowing the mechanics of persuasion to play out. The unravelling of evidence thus begins to feel trite and obvious. Of course, the indefatigable Prerna Chawla (channelizing a tapori type) and Rohit Malkani spiritedly strive to provide a counterpoint alongside a less subtle Deven Khote, but they do so without justifiable arguments. Tucked away in the cast is an impressive Sohrab Ardeshir.

The politics of capital punishment—an important conversation of our times—is absent. We remain unaware of what steers Kapur’s juror to steadily turn the tables on his peers. Khan doesn’t attempt to step on any other turf than that laid down by his script, but this doesn’t mean that 12 Angry Jurors isn’t an engrossing evening out.

12 Angry Jurors will be staged on 18 June, 7.30pm, and 19 June, 4pm/7.30pm, at Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point. Tickets, 300, 500, 750 and 1,000, available on

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