Guilty deliberations

Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree shares her experience as an audience after seeing the performance of 12 Angry Men on stage

First aired as a TV play 12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose in 1954 afterwards filmed in 1957, the three category Academy award nominee is considered one of the finest films produced in English language. Starting its stage journey in 1964, this court-room drama has a long history of performance in many countries, however not in Bangladesh until recently.

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One confined room, twelve jurors, a murder case, a 16 year old accused of murdering his own father- with a proven motif and eye witness, do the jurors unanimously agree on the boy being guilty, do they not?-with this problem at hand, the story forwards.

The newly formed Open Space Theatre group performed the play on May 18 at the experimental hall of Shilpakala Academy. While talking to New Age Xtra , the director, M Arifur Rahman, an engineer who has his fair share of experience in theatre says, ‘There were a few incentives behind choosing this particular script; the argumentative and intense plot makes it alive and tangible to the audience, the play is suited for the current social context of Bangladesh, it is thought provoking and lastly this play is suitable for working on a certain place and period of time in an empty platform through action and reaction. Open Space Theatre wishes to promote such concept.’

Almost all the tickets of the premiere show were pre-booked; the humongous line of audiences said it all albeit if the hall had more seating capacity there would still be no shortage of audience.

The play started with the judge instructing the jurors from the background to scrutinize the details of the murder and come up with a justified verdict. Assumingly that the twelve jurors who pretty much agreed on giving the boy the verdict of guilty and go back to their daily plain ordinary schedule, the first blow comes from jury number 8. The pensiveness is clearly portrayed, and this one juror thinks that the matter of life and death cannot be taken so lightly, that the little boy at least deserves to be discussed among the jurors and considerable amount of doubt should be put on proofs of the case so far. With this turn of events, soon arise personal opinions and numerous conflicts, and notable deliberations among the jurors gradually leading to the unanimous decision of the boy being not guilty.

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The performance was compact in every means, from the lighting to the music in the background, from the eloquent dialogue throwing to the very visible worry lines on the jurors’ foreheads, all of which kept the audience hooked and hanging in suspense, in fear of what happens next, providing them with comic relief too from the very natural human flaws portrayed by the characters. It is to be noted that the play was translated and scripted in Bengali, nonetheless the director preferred and went for frequent code switching from Bengali to English.

The cast and crew were alumni and current students of North South University. Kazi Arifur Rahman, Mahdi Hossain, A.S.M Mosabbir Tanim, Syed Azaz Ahmed, Raihan Ahmed Dip, Md Muanna Zilan, Walid Adnan, M Arifur Rahman, Shimanto Haque, Shariful M Tarik, Mohammed Nazmul Hossain, Fairooz Alom and Baizid Noor Ayon acted in different roles and; the only lady in the team, Mahjabeen Chowdhury neatly arranged the show as the chief organizer.

After watching the performance, thespian Ataur Rahman says, ‘This is an absolute performance, I haven’t seen such a production in many days.’ Suggestions were made that the twelve jurors do not necessarily have to be men rather women can be included thus making it more aligned with our social context. Sudip Chakroborthy, chairman of Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at University of Dhaka, went straight to his point, ‘This play should be staged once a month at least and every possible support should be provided to them in this regard’ and lauded the performers who were either corporate professionals or still students, for making time for performing this play. A social issue came up from his perspective, ‘This is an ethical play which sheds light on the judicial process and throws a question on which provision is the criminal subjected to under the state system, is a matter of scrutiny, also the jurors can reach a certain height as ethical beings when they explore into their deliberations.’ One of the audiences Shakil Ahmed said, ‘It was one of the greatest theatre experiences for me. This play has a global appeal and it should also be performed outside Dhaka city, possibly throughout the country.’

Talking about their future endeavours with New Age Xtra, the director added, ‘Performance wise there are indeed spaces for improvement. We will continue and try to perform every month in different venues; we are looking for places where we can perform.’