Guilty or Not Guilty?

A lawyer reviews a new Nepali play about the courts


The stage drama Guilty or Not Guilty was highly anticipated in the legal fraternity, to see how the conduct of our profession would be portrayed. As luck would have it, it is being staged in Kathmandu while ex-President Donald Trump was found guilty on 34 counts halfway around the world by a jury in the New York District Court. 

The Kausi Theatre in Teku felt like a courtroom because of the stage setting and audience mood. The bench, the bar and audience were all settling down for a gruelling two hour criminal jury trial. 

In a jury trial, a few individuals from society are selected to weigh the evidence and provide a verdict of guilty or not guilty. Spoiler alert: once seated, we are informed that the jury box would be filled with volunteers from the audience. 

Guilty or not review NT 1

A few in the audience opted to go, and the stage (quite literally) was set. “All rise!” the bailiff announced, as the judge entered. In Nepal’s courts we all rise without anyone saying “all rise”.

The government attorney was called the advocate by director Rajkamal Fakir in the script, which most non-legal members of the audience did not notice. All court officials (lawyers, judge and bailiff) were men. Not just men but Brahmin-looking men. 

This could either mean that it was an accurate portrayal of the lack of inclusion in Nepal’s legal system, or it could be a casting oversight. In the real world most judges are male and a majority are ‘upper’ caste and so are court officials.

Guilty or not review NT 1

The complex story was adapted from Ayn Rand’s Night of January 16th, and is intertwined with subplots that confused even the lawyers in the audience. In one instance a character says I killed that person, but then a burnt corpse is found inside a car and in another scene the person is thrown down from a height. 

It is the same person, but depicting versions of different characters. The multiple subplots mean that crime is not portrayed as a uniform chain of events fundamental in a criminal trial to find the defendant guilty. But this is art, and the production is cleverly executed to make the audience as well as jurors really think before reaching the verdict of guilty or not guilty.

At one point the judge smirks at the alleged perpetrator, which was comical on stage but would have been highly unusual in a real life court. Touching the Bhagavad Gita as an oath before the witness testimony is long gone from the Nepal court system. There are witness stands in the courts but are only used for taking the statement of the accused in the pre-trial stage. 

Guilty or not review NT 1
Guilty or not review NT 1

 Maybe it should be called the perpetrator stand as the witness generally testifies outside the courtroom in rooms designated for hearing dates, implementing the orders and where the parties to the cases take the court dates. And the gavel to ensure order and decorum in the courtroom is not used anymore. 

All in all the legal drama was aptly prepared and executed. The characters' portrayal was like the transcending of real life characters in our society. Just like a complicated and intertwined web of relationships and the toxicities taking its toll on each character. 

The verdict to me and fellow lawyers in the audience was an easy conclusion.

Samman Humagain is a lawyer based in Kathmandu.

Guilty of Not Guilty

Kaushi Theatre, Teku 

Every day, except Tuesday

5:30PM onwards till June 8 

Saturday 1:00PM

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