In a room with a view of rooftops and flying pigeons, 12 people get together to decide if a young man is guilty of murdering his father. All the evidence points to this until one juror decides that there was a need to question the obvious — and turns an open-and-shut case upside down. Twelve Angry Jurors, was staged as part of Aadyam Theatre Festival in Delhi over the weekend, is based on a 1957 teleplay by American playwright Reginald Rose called Twelve Angry Men. Mumbai-based director Nadir Khan took on a contemporary classic that has been widely performed in India and internationally, and delivered a gripping production nuanced with themes of social prejudices, such as the rich-poor divide. Excerpts:
What made you adapt this work?
It’s funny, but I get asked that a lot and take that as a compliment. The truth is, this is not an adaptation at all. The only real change from the original script was to use a mixed cast of men and women. The great thing about the script is that it does not resolutely set itself in a particular geographical context. Each characters’ motivations and individual experiences and prejudices exist in every part of the world. The great revelation for me was how easy it was for a line, written for and in the ’50s America, to shed its geographical specificity. An Indian actor talking one of these lines in his or her natural accent and with his or her own understanding of it, immediately sets it in the context it is delivered.
Was it difficult to adapt a script meant for film, to the stage?
I didn’t think of it as being difficult, rather as being a challenge.The script was ostensibly written for film and then adapted to the stage and, therefore, lends itself organically to the various devices offered by the medium of film. It’s basically written to be performed around one table, which, as a stage-picture, can be very limiting and boring, given that one doesn’t have the luxury of close-ups and cuts to concentrate specifically on various characters or areas of the room. The challenge was to create a large canvas that was dynamic and engaging.
How important was the casting?
Casting was key. The cast includes Rajit Kapur, Sohrab Ardeshir and Deven Khote. We needed and found a calibre of actors who are able to be ‘engaged’ and ‘engaging’ throughout the show, since an audience member is completely free to follow anyone or a mixture of the characters. I’ve always maintained that watching an actor ‘listen’ and ‘do nothing’ is perhaps one of the most engaging and interesting things to do.
The single-room set was offset with video projections designed as windows. The audience can see the neighbourhood buildings, through the “window”. How did you conceptualise this?
The video element was something I was sure I wanted to have. On one level, it’s a little hat-tip to the film, which is iconic and brilliant. We shot in an approximation of the style that was used in the film — black and white, with close mid-shots. On another level, it allows the audience to get up-close with key elements and moments. The video elements helped us create a fly-on-the-wall experience for them.