Author Ayn Rand’s play, Night of January 16th, was inspired by a real-life drama and centered around a murder trial where the audience were picked in the role of jury members. Inspired by the concept, actress and theatre director Divya Palat conceptualised the play, The Verdict.
It revolves around the trial of Riya Sharma (Tanishaa Mukherjee) accused of murdering her boss and lover, Karan Singh. Singh had jilted her to marry the wealthy Natasha Rao (Madhoo Shah). The struggle between the mistress and the wife is the focus of The Verdict.
Speaking about the play, Palat says, “The concept of the audience playing a part in the play is not very common. The play is loosely inspired by Night of January 16th, but the murder, the case, the witnesses and the verdict are completely different. The verdict will change every show, based on the audience; a majority vote will decide the person as ‘guilty’ or ‘innocent’. Post the jury verdict, the actors will act out the ending telling the audience whether they got the verdict right or not,” she states.
Palat adds that she wrote several alternate endings for the shows and to maintain secrecy, the actors learn about the ending on the day of the show. Palat emphasises that her choice of protagonists, such as Tanishaa Mukherjee and Madhoo as cast members, was based on her “gut instinct”: “When I finished writing the play, these were the two faces that came to me and I wanted to use them since both are good actresses who fit into the roles easily. Nobody else was approached. They were my first choices, and I loved working with them, particularly since they didn’t come with any ‘actor’ baggage.”
Interestingly, Palat’s decade-old production house, Balancing Act Productions, started off with a staging of this play, as part of the centenary celebrations of the Taj Mahal, Mumbai. “This was our first production and my first professional directorial debut. At that time, we cast friends and family in the roles and didn’t change Ayn Rand’s story or plot idea that much. It made sense that we would re-stage this play, this time in an entirely different way.”