(This article first appeared in the Mumbai Mirror)
Chaos Theory, as explained by the promotional literature of Anuvab Pal’s new play of the same name, states that two particles can get strongly attracted to each other and remain in a pattern infinitely without ever meeting. This fancy premise is proposed to ask that clichéd question – Can a man and a woman ever be friends? While the modern mind may react outrageously to this generalisation that suggests there is little more to us than basic instinct, Pal’s play is really only a study of two characters, that makes a point or two about love without trying to determine final answers.
The plot moves back and forth between time and cities but begins essentially with the meeting of Mukesh Singh (Zafar Karachiwala) and Sunita Sen (Anahita Uberoi) in the 60’s at St. Stephens. Singh, is a non-bengali from Kolkata and Sen a Bengali from Delhi. That she keeps making jibes at his ‘Calcuttan’ behaviour is an sharp, subtle but endearing observation by the playwright that people from Kolkata are a peculiar breed apart and it has nothing to do with being Bengali. There are other such delicate contrasts that make these characters come to life. Sen knows English literature better than the anglophile Singh, who teaches it, but she prefers to teach Indian literature instead.
Thereafter the play serves up slices of their lives spiced up by some well-made moments (with borrowed poetry or without) that betray their love and longing for each other.
Their respective spouses in brief failed marriages are played by Shaana Levy (essaying an excitable ambitious bimbette) and Sohrab Ardeshir (a new age communist deeply in unrequited love with Sen). They are mostly written as caricatures for relief, but Ardeshir packs punches in the underwritten role. Uberoi plays Sen with lively conviction despite the distinct south Bombay accent and Karachiwala gets the pulse of Singh’s sullen vulnerability.
Rahul da Cunha’s direction is usually prominently visible in most of his works. In that sense this play is under-directed. He mostly lets the script take over except for the use of projection slides to indicate the time and place. While that device works well, one does miss the kind of atmosphere he manages to evoke in the friendship trilogy he has written himself. Unimaginative lighting doesn’t help him either.
Pal explains little but that does not interfere with the believability of the situation. His most poignant writing comes during the only confrontation the friends ever have. For the rest he moves smoothly between high wit and medium emotion in the dialogues. If you look beneath the laughs, you might be confronted with questions like why and how we love vis-à-vis how and why we define it.
Chaos Theory is much more complex than the simple definition that inspired Pal. Love is undoubtedly even more complex than the Chaos Theory. Yet, strangely it is never a topic of intellectual respectability. Pal’s play gives love due respect. But in the end it remains elusive, as it always will.