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--------------- Print Magazine --------------
  May 2016
  April 2016

EK RUKA HUA FAISLA - A Masterpiece Remake

One has the right to be presumed innocent until and unless one's guilt is proved beyond reasonable doubt. It is certainly important to find who committed the crime, but it is a lot more important to ascertain the guilt or innocence of accused. And if neither could be ascertained, the benefit of doubt must be allowed to the accused, and he or she must be treated as innocent by default. This is generally referred to as the 'Doctrine of Presumed Innocence' or 'Doctrine of the Presumption of Innocence' ( Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat ). The doctrine is central to the movie, which deals with the trial of a slum-dwelling teenager accused of the murder of his own father. The film starts at the post-arguments stage when the jury is ordered by the presiding judge to withdraw to the jury room to deliberate and return with a verdict, which has to be necessarily unanimous.

A 1986 remake of the 1957 American drama film 12 Angry Men , Ek Ruka Hua Faisla turned out to be as much of a classic as the original had been. And both the versions also shared a common box office fate with neither of them doing too well in terms of making money. Directed by Sydney Lumet, 12 Angry Men was a screen adaptation of a teleplay of the same name penned by Reginald Rose in 1954. The teleplay was first staged as a CBS (CBS Broadcasting Inc.) live production on September 20, 1954. The script was re-written for stage in 1955 and was written another time when it was turned into a film in 1957. Despite several re-writings the title of the work remained the same throughout.

Interestingly, the jury, as shown in the movie, is empowered to hang the accused or set him free, but the verdict must be unanimous, which was never a requirement in the jury trials under the Indian legal system, wherein a majority verdict was valid until the Jury System was completely abolished in 1960 after the K.M. Nanavati case ( K.M. Nanavati v . State of Maharashtra , 1962 AIR 605). The requirement of unanimous verdict in criminal jury trials has been a feature of the American jury system, and since the movie is a re-make of an American film, it does not depict an Indian jury trial, but an 'Indianized' American jury trial. Ek Ruka Hua Faisla follows 12 Angry Men quite religiously, and does not go overboard with 'Indianization', which is a big relief considering the look and feel of the popular Hindi cinema in 1980s with ridiculous films like Disco Dancer , Ilzaam , Jungbaaz , Shehanshah , Toofan and Jaadugar catering to the general flavour of the era.

When the jury enters the Jury Room for deliberation, they have their mind set, and their verdict ready. Entering the room is a mere formality to them. They 'know' that the boy is guilty, and all they have to do is put it on record and get over with it. One of them - Juror number 7 (played by Maharaj Krishna Raina) - is so sure of the quick verdict that he has the tickets for the Dilip Kumar and Anil Kapoor starrer Mashaal (1984), which he plans to watch after the verdict. But his plan gets derailed when one of his fellow jurors - Juror number 8 (played by K.K. Raina) - puts his foot down on the grounds that there was too much at stake for them to proceed with such callous swiftness. All that Juror number 8 demands is a patient discussion before the verdict is arrived at. The requirement of unanimity and the jury's unwillingness to return a hung jury declaration makes them deliberate so as to bring their disagreeing colleague around to their viewpoint. Juror number 8 questions the reliability of the witnesses' testimonies.

So, what makes the jurors so sure about the guilt of the accused? It's their own prejudices, which are of different kinds and origins, but they are all loaded against the accused. All jury members have their own understanding of crime and criminals, and when they find someone that fits their idea of a criminal, they 'know' that the person is 'guilty'; and if they could, they would certainly want to send him to the gallows. They are not unreasonable or adamant, but their prejudices have different melting points, so to speak. And as the deliberation proceeds, the stiff concoction of prejudice and indifference starts giving way to reason and focus.

Juror number 8 suggests a fresh round of vote after making his preliminary arguments, and offers to go with the otherwise unanimous decision if he were still the sole dissenter. The vote finds another dissenter. The coughing old man - Juror number 9, played brilliantly by Anu Kapoor - is no longer part of the majority. He sees merit in the contentions of Juror number 8. Age does not necessarily harden one's indifference or intensify one's prejudices. Experience is not so much about what we go through as about how we respond to the events. But that does not change the fact that experience does make us indifferent to a number of things including human misery. More than that it gets us angry at the rampant injustice all around, and general moral decline. This old man, who is otherwise easily provoked and is quarrelsome, disallows his general anger to interfere with his sense of fairness, which is a remarkable feat in view of his humble background.

Juror number 4 (played by S.M. Zaheer) is a reasonable, educated and civilized man, who, among all jurors, is most capable of a rational analysis and clear articulation. He represents that segment of the society which considers crime and criminal a threat to the civil society, and tend to look upon the lower strata as a source of all ills. Their bias is rooted more in incomprehension than in disgust.

Therefore, Juror number 4 is among the last - in fact, the second last - to change his vote, and only after all evidences rallied against the accused are successfully brought under serious doubt. It is after the successful defense of the alibi and the plausible doubtfulness of the eyewitness's account is brought to the notice of Juror number 4 that he decides to change his vote to 'not guilty'.

The intellectual biases that originate from one's ideas about the society and social forces are much easier to counter than the emotional biases that are much tougher to crack because one cannot reason with them. They need a cathartic diffusion. Juror number 3 - remarkably portrayed by Pankaj Kapur - holds on to 'guilty' despite all rational persuasion and all appeals to reason. He does not 'fail' to but adamantly 'refuses' to see the rationale and gaping evidentiary loopholes.

A long argument between Juror number 8 and Juror number 3 ensues and ends in the latter's admitting that his stubborn refusal to go with the majority actually stems from the emotional trauma that he has been living for the past two years since his son slapped him and went away to never return. The resultant distress led to the death of his wife, and he was left alone to spend the rest of his life like a living ghost. And here he was dealing with a son who had allegedly taken his father's life like his son had taken his a bit differently. He could thus relate to the situation and the deceased so closely that he almost saw his own son in the accused, and he was absolutely unwilling to forgive.

Finally, he breaks down in a cathartic release, and is then gently reminded that it is not his son on trial, after which he changes his vote to 'not guilty' concluding the acquittal. Pankaj Kapur's performance - particularly the halting delivery of dialogues - in this particular sequence is outstanding by all means, and is easily one of the best performances of his career.

Among all jurors, Juror number 7 - the avid movie-watcher with a ticket for Mashaal , ably played by Raina - is the most forgettable juror. When criticized for being taking it too lightly, he does say that it was the discussion that made him change his mind, but he says 'not guilty' only as easily as he said 'guilty'. That's because the result of the deliberation affects him in only one way - after it ends, he can go home. And that's what he cares about the most. We find it easy to forget him because he is so much like us.

HemRaj Singh

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