The Abhishek Bachchan anti-hero is a strange freak of nature. He can be surly but charming (Yuva); combative but noble (Raavan). He was strictly passable in Breathe: Into The Shadows, a show with all the psychological complexity of a six-year-old. And Ludo was pure sentiment: his po-faced gangster increasingly looked like he needed a hug.
I’m not sure where I stand on hugs with Abhishek’s latest character. At first glance, insurance agent Bob Biswas is your stereotypical Bengali dork: bespectacled, podgy, shy. He has a soft, childlike smile, and hair parted down like a palm tree. He’s a caricature, of course, but an oddly compelling one. He could be an old friend you bump into on the Kolkata metro—a classmate you casually bullied once and never thought much of. He could tell you it was all fine. Or he might reach into his bag.
Bob Biswas, a spin-off to Kahaani (2012), is a strange film. Directed by Diya Annapurna Ghosh, it picks up several months before Vidya Bagchi comes looking for her husband in Kolkata. Bob—once Saswata Chatterjee, now Abhishek—has risen from a coma: some sort of an accident, we’re told. His memory is gone and so are eight years of his life. We watch as he dazedly puts together the pieces—with sufficient misgivings. Are those picture-perfect wife and kids really his? And who are these people pushing him into a car and telling him he used to be a hitman?
Both questions loom large over Sujoy Ghosh’s screenplay (who directed Kahaani and its 2016 unconnected sequel). Firstly, to put a contract killer in a domestic drama is to take his sinister edge off—the trick is better suited for spy thrillers, where an immediate contrast is needed. Bob’s wife, Mary (Chitrangda Singh), is vaguely written—“Let’s go to church” is the first thing she says—and the same can be said of his kids. Bob opens up to them, an investment almost certainly doomed from the start. There’s also the trouble of easing him back into his trade. The plot Sujoy fashions—concerning a hard, sleep-cancelling drug called ‘blue’—is a jumble of cops, conspiracies and cinematic influences. It’s like Bob Biswas wants to be Breaking Bad, The Bourne Identity and The Family Man all at the same time.
Bob was a sideshow in Kahaani—in all likelihood, Saswata Chatterjee’s cue-cards said things like ‘creepy’ and ‘creepily entertaining.’ Abhishek has a wider emotional space to fill. As often with spin-offs, the character’s morality—or his sense of morality—is the central conflict in the film. His victims in Bob Biswas are mostly bullies and thugs (even when he wrings the neck of a pet rabbit, our sympathies are with him). Around halfway, something truly dark is revealed—and the camera doesn’t blink. It’s the only time I sprang up in my seat; the rest of the film felt like a struggle to accommodate Abhishek’s image within the gory demands of a serial killer flick.
Cinematographer Gairik Sarkar shoots a dense, noirish Calcutta. There’s no Howrah Bridge or unfinished Durga idols, though a mention of Paris Bar (venue changed) made me homesick. Bob and Mary’s house overlooks a pond: it looks unremarkable by day, weirdly ominous at night. Little sonic cues flesh out the world (the buzz of traffic, Kishore Kumar’s ‘E Ki Holo’ playing in a cab). There are mistakes, too. The Factory Outlet on Southern Avenue opened in 2019, so why does Bob visit it in a pre-coma flashback?
Abhishek spends the first half getting his bearings. His blushing and blinking fits conveniently into the scheme of things. It makes you think if actors who play amnesiacs get off easily—perhaps not, since the old instincts must show. The scene where Bob assembles his revolver—confidently, without instruction—is a fine demonstration of this. The actor holds his own against the best of Bengali cinema royalty: Paran Bandopadhyay, Rajatava Dutta, Kanchan Mullick. Abhishek never speaks any Bengali, though it’s touching to hear him say ‘Darjeeling’ with an accent.
Does Bob ever make it there? The answer, even to first-time viewers of the franchise, should be obvious. Origin stories usually play out at a distance—six seasons to kill, say, before Jimmy becomes Saul. The approach not only guarantees future instalments but also lets a certain looseness slip into the narrative. This film, however, punts all that. The climax feels rushed. Bob has an appointment to keep, and can’t be late. Not even ‘ek minute’.
|Movie: Bob Biswas
Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Chitrangda Singh, Paran Bandopadhyay, Tina Desai, Purab Kohli
Direction: Diya Annapurna Ghosh
Streaming on: Zee5