A riveting drama


A Hollywood film turned into a play can go horribly wrong. But the play ‘A Few Good Men’ based on the English film of the same name, is not only well cast and directed, but almost surpasses the original in many departments, says Prof. Avinash Kolhe.

Any court room drama that involves murder, holds the attention of the audience. No wonder the fifth edition of Aaditya Birla group’s Aadhyam Theatre that began last month in Mumbai with the staging of A Few Good Men, drew packed houses. Aaron Sorkin’s drama, which is also a Hollywood film released in the year 1992, is a high-voltage entertainment that keeps audiences riveted to their chairs and when they leave the hall, they ponder over the philosophical aspects of the discipline in the armed forces the world over.

Based on an actual event

The play is based on the actual event that took place at the Guantanamo Bay, the Cuba Naval Base, in July 1986. The play was so popular in the USA that soon it was adapted in several languages like Spanish, German, and Hungarian. The Indian version of A Few Good Men has been directed by Nadir Khan, who has directed each play in Aadhyam’s previous editions, like God of Carnage and Anand Express. He has not indianissed this play unlike other plays like The Twelve Angry Jurors.

It is a well-known fact that Sorkin wrote this play largely on cocktail napkins while he was a bartender at the Palace Theatre. It is about how the military lawyers navigate a court-martial to uncover a high level conspiracy against the two US marines accused of murdering a fellow mariner. Though the play is based on a true story in the US marine, it could take place in Japan, Myanmar, Iran or Brazil, as the world over, the armed services function in a more or less uniform way.

The play opens on the fact that US Marine Private Santiago is dead as a result of ill-advised punishment infamously known as ‘Code Red’, at a US naval force. Private Downey and Lance Corporal Dawson are charged of this murder. As per the principle of legal system, they get a lawyer to defend themselves, US Navy Lieutenant, Daniel Kaffee, an unmotivated lawyer, who wants to finish the cases on plea-bargaining. He would have packed off this case in a similar manner but for the arrival of US Navy Lieutenant Commander Jo Galloway who is convinced that the case is more complicated than it appears to be. She argues with Kaffee and the play takes a new turn. She convinces Kaffee to take the case to court. They manage to establish a fact that ‘Code Red’ was ordered at the Naval Base. This is how Private Santiago met with death. And yet they do not have concrete evidence. They decide to call Col. Jessep as a witness, despite the risk of being court-martialed for smearing a high-ranking officer of the US Marine. With his legal skills picked up at the Harvard Law School, Kaffee manages to break Col. Jessep, who is finally charged with the murder of Private Santiago and is escorted out of the courtroom. Dawson and Downey are found guilty too and are dishonorably discharged.

Nadir Khan has an enviable cast to stage this play. Rajit Kapoor (Col. Jessep), Neil Bhoopalam (Lt. Kaffee), Kenny Desai (Judge), Ira Dubey (Lt. Jo Galloway) are all excellent at their craft. Rajit Kapoor is as good if not better than Jack Nicholson who played the same role in the Hollywood film. Rajit powerfully shows the convictions of armed services officers about the honour of their regiment, and how such things happen in the course of time. Then there is the lovable Neil Bhoopalam, the happy-go-lucky young lawyer who suddenly decides to fight the case with seriousness. This is the only flaw in the otherwise flawless script where this important change in the character of Lt. Kaffee is not convincingly portrayed. Neil carries this role with extreme ease. Ira Dubey was equally convincing in her role of Lt .Jo who cannot sleep if there is a miscarriage of justice. Kenny Desai, an old-pro, has once again delivered a solid performance. His role of the judge of the court-martial has surely set very high standards.

This review will not be complete unless a special mention is made of the set design by Juhie Gupta, which does the job of shift of place and time frame effortlessly. And a big round of applause for Nadir Khan, the director. Nadir Khan has directed a court drama before. He has been around for over 20 years. His directorial debut was a college production in 1998 The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. Since then he has been handling many complicated scripts, and this is one of them. A Few Good Men is not an easy script to deal with as it is a play about morality. What should a soldier do? Obey the orders of his superiors without bothering whether these orders are right or wrong? This issue had come up during the Nuremberg Trials held after the World War II by the Allied forces. These were held during November 1945 to October 1946 in Nuremberg, Germany. Here many accused argued that they were merely carrying out the orders given by their superiors. All over the world, the basic code of soldiers is ‘Ours is not ask why, ours is to do and die’. Then there is this issue of ‘honour’ of respective regiments for which no sacrifice is greater, even if this means death of a private. These are not small issues, but have deep philosophical ramifications. This is precisely why A Few Good Men continues to haunt the audiences long after they have left the hall.

Prof. Avinash Kolhe

Prof. Avinash Kolhe retired as Associate Professor in Political Science from D.G. Ruparel College, Mumbai.