Delhi-based theatre producer, director and writer, Atul Satya Koushik has been bringing his productions to Mumbai regularly. His plays, belonging to diverse genres from mythologicals to comedies and family dramas. His latest, Ballygunge 1990- Love is an endless mystery, is a taut 85-minute thriller that runs without a break or blackout.
The title places the story in a particular place and time, in Kolkata—it could not be set in the present, because the existence of cell phones would ruin the plot. The set is that of a large mansion in the affluent area of Ballygunge (a bit on the garish side), where Vasuki (Nishtha Paliwal Tomar) lives with her rich and famous artist husband Binoy Das.
When the play opens, Kartik (Annup Sonii) has dropped in to meet Vasuki, who has invited him over for tea. It emerges from their dialogue, that they were lovers for ten years, when Kartik suddenly decided to move to Mumbai to become a writer. Vasuki resents the fact that he did not even ask her, just informed her of his decision and then snapped ties, not bothering to answer any of her letters.
His attempts to build a career in Mumbai fail, he returns to Kolkata, and just happens to bump into Vasuki in the market. She asks him to visit her and he turns up on the appointed day, a few hours late. Kartik is awed by the palatial mansion and by the reputation of her husband. But, he sees nobody in the house, she brushes aside his requests to meet her husband, and after she asks her old manservant to go on an errand, the tension between the two is thick enough to be cut with a knife.
It is clear that neither has really gotten over the past relationship, but Kartik is stoic while Vasuki moves between being querulous and cheerful by turn. The promised tea never materializes, the husband remains absent and gradually the catching-up kind of conversation takes a sinister turn. Vasuki in the best ‘hell hath no fury as a woman scorned’ tradition, manipulates Kartik using her love for him and his guilt at abandoning her as her emotional weapons.
Koushik’s decision to keep the stage so underlit is baffling, but he gets good performances from the two leads, keeps the twists coming in measured bursts, sprinkles some dark humour and holds the suspense till the very end. All of which make Ballygunge 1990 a watchable play.