In an inebriated, disconnected state at a house party that becomes pivotal to the plot of “Love Etc,” the female protagonist Maya Kapoor (Sukriti Vadhera Kohli) compares herself to salt. She’s pure, clean and bland - she mutters to herself in Hindi and calls pepper the exciting spice (again we paraphrase). The metaphor becomes the premise of insecurities and many complications that can arise in a definition-less relationship, which is depicted in Chandigarh-based theatre group Manchtantra’s show “Love Etc.”staged in Mumbai recently. The five-year-old play’s erstwhile moniker “Salt ‘N’ Pepper” has previously been performed in the group’s native town and Delhi over the past few years.
But in context, the story is as timeless as matters of the heart tend to be. 20-something urban professional Kapoor is in a live-in relationship with young fashion photographer, 20-something Pranav Kakkar (essayed by Hardeep Singh Sethi, who also directed the play). They reside in a modular apartment in an Indian metropolis, leading somewhat modular lives themselves. Individualistic in thought and independent in lifestyle, the couple after three years of companionship start developing the seven-year-itch marriages sometimes have. There are arguments over being taken for granted and the idolization of a life with a “what if.” In this case, Kakkar documents life with an ideal fictitious girlfriend in a book her scribbles in, Sharon (Ashmita Gupta) “the most beautiful girl in the world.”
Kapoor begins to piece together Sharon who looks like a dream, cooks like Nigella Lawson and even breaks into a hot salsa routine. The cracks in the K and K relationship grow bigger when Sharon’s (non)existence starts playing on Kapoor’s mind as she begins to emulate Sharon’s moves, leaving Kakkar confused and disappointed. Fuelled by nosy and friendly neighbourly banter by Nanhi (Raveena Beniwal) and Jaggs (Gurpreet Saini), both Kapoor and Kakkar begin to question their relationship.
But like all love stories, this too has a happy ending with great expectations being met with great realisations, replete with going down on one knee, popping the question and answering in the affirmative. Love lost and gained in the duration of two hours, with the aid of song and dance. Music composer Rochak Kohli and singer/actor Ayushmann Khurrana have given the soundtrack for the play, making the Hinglish production a semi-musical. There’s a choreographed routine with backup dancers and for a moment you could almost be tricked into thinking that you’re watching a Bollywood movie.
The characterisation of the protagonists is spot on. Both Sethi and Kohli’s acting is spot on. Kakkar and Kapoor could very well be your average city-going Joe and Jane navigating the course of their “will-they,” “won’t-they” relationship. Nanhi and Jaggs are the meddling friends, portrayed to their eccentric pandering perfection. Beniwal, who is also the co-writer of the play, essays the nosy neighbour who brings her “I told you so” fortitude to Kohli and Jaggs plays the hen-pecked hubby at home and flirt in the office colleague to Kakkar. The two form the Indian-societal voice of the play, exacting moral dilemmas in comic relief. Two more characters that perhaps stretch your patience a little are devotional singer Gulshanji (Gautam Sharma) and Colonel (Siddharth Kaushal). Their inclusion renders the play with a slapstick humour that the story could do without.
Linguistically the play is in Hinglish, though the dialogues bend towards a more Punjabi slant. And sure the flow may feel like a celluloid compression onto stage, but the story is endearing. It’s a modern-day compression of Erich Segal storytelling and Nora Ephron chick flick. And you could wonder what love would be like with a little seasoning.