THE VERDICT- Play Review

Divyani Rattanpal

Direction : Akarsh Khurana
Writer : Margaret May Hobbs (from the novel by Barry Reed)
Cast : Adhaar Khurana, Akash Khurana, Aseem Hattangady, Digvijay Savant, Dilshad Edibam Khurana, Faisal Rashid, Garima Yajnik, Lisha Bajaj, Muzammil Qureshi, Siddharth Kumar, Tahira Nath and Zayn Marie Khan


The play opens with a red plus sign fixed up high above the stage. It's lit up. But underneath the sign - which embodies the medical profession's humanistic spirit - utter corruption is on display.

On stage, we see a woman sitting on one of the chrome plated steel benches of a hospital. Her husband is fighting for his life inside.

Just then, enters Anil D'Souza. He looks washed up, and offers the woman a quick legal fix, in case she needs it.

Once a promising star lawyer, D'Souza is now reduced to an alcoholic ambulance-chaser, offering anyone whose loved one is in the hospital, a cheap legal fix.

His mentor, Indranil Gupta, thinks he's a lost cause. However, he passes on an open-and-shut case of medical negligence to his mentee as a favour. â€Å"It's a case even you can't f**k up,” Gupta says. D'Souza only has to make way for an out-of-court settlement.

However, seeing the victim, D'Souza's conscience awakens, and he prepares to take on the hospital establishment. It's a classic case of David vs Goliath.

But although courtroom dramas are aplenty, THE VERDICT, written by Margaret May Hobbs from a novel by Barry Reed, stands apart from the rest. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to call it one of the best courtroom dramas of all time. After all, its screen adaptation, which was directed by Sidney Lumet, won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Speaking of adaptations, Akarsh Khurana has done a good job with the Indian adaptation of this iconic play. Whereas the original drama was set in Boston and took on the Church, Khurana places the action in Mumbai and takes on a Godman and his cronies.

Khurana's Anil D'Souza finds unforgivable medical lapses at a charitable hospital run with the 'blessings' of a well-connected Swamiji, and struggles to get justice for his client.
Besides the medical establishment, the play is also an indictment of the power corridors that tightly seal themselves shut to prevent any stench of a misdemeanour out.

The protagonist, D'Souza, has to fight many odds in this last chance to redeem himself. Does he succeed?

Courtroom dramas, in general, are extremely enthralling. But in theatre, the tension becomes much more palpable, especially in this play where the stage directions build the tension up to a crescendo. For instance, in the second half, the judge, Hon'ble Justice Tripathi, speaks from the stalls.

As a director, Akarsh Khurana keeps the pace tight. While the first act is utilised in building up the characters and laying the plot, most of the second half is set in the courtroom.

The actors maintain consistency throughout.

Akash Khurana shines as the experienced lawyer. Siddharth Kumar plays the anti-hero protagonist's role with a characteristic ease and flair. Almost all the central characters maintain authenticity and uniformity throughout both halves of the play. However, a few cameos are wasted.

The dialogues are quite meaty and rich with cultural humour. Although the emotional outbursts of the victim's sister become a tad too sappy.

One thing that stands out in Khurana's adaptation is the linguistic and cultural references that layer the drama with more relatability.

The characters are a microcosm reflecting Mumbai's cosmopolitanism. There's a Christian, a Marathi, a Bohra Muslim, a Bengali, among others.

Khurana also adds a layer of immediacy to the drama by adding the Hindi national language debate as well as the issue of minority rights. All in all, the play is gripping, intelligent, and intense, and the conflicts presented in it are as relevant as they were when the original play opened.

*Divyani has worked as a journalist for The Quint, where she was also among the Founding Team members. While there, she also hosted and produced a podcast and fronted several standups. She's also worked for The Times of India group. She's now a theatre and film actor.

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