Director: Diya Annapurna Ghosh
Writer: Sujoy Ghosh
Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Chitrangda Singh, Amar Upadhyay, Samara Tijori, Maneesh Verma
Cinematographer: Gairik Sarkar
Editor: Yasha Ramchandani
Streaming on: Zee5
A contract killer with amnesia. What an instantly delicious idea. In Bob Biswas, filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh revisits one of his most famous creations – the murderous life insurance agent from Kahaani who threw Vidya Bagchi into the path of a metro train, then pulled her back and solicitously suggested that Kolkata was a dangerous city. "Yahan kahin bhi, kabhi bhi kuch bhi ho sakta hai."
Bob, played superbly by Saswata Chatterjee, was a masterstroke – a seemingly nondescript, mild-mannered man who said Nomoshkar to his victims before disposing of them. When the pot-bellied, balding Bob appeared behind Vidya at the metro station, he sent a chill down your spine. The character, who was only onscreen for some eight minutes, became a sensation.
Bob Biswas, directed by Sujoy's daughter, debutant Diya Annapurna Ghosh, and written by Sujoy, who co-wrote the dialogues with Raj Vasant, is a spin-off. When we last saw Bob in Kahaani, he had been hit by a car after a botched attempt to assassinate Vidya. It's eight years later. He has come out of a coma and is now played by Abhishek Bachchan. The actor, with an unflattering wig and much more flab, attempts to resurrect the silky menace of the original. He can't match the ease with which Saswata walked that delicate line between creepy and charismatic. You can see the strain in Abhishek's performance as he attempts to shed the stardom and inhabit the inner life of a character who is far from heroic. But Abhishek manages to locate the peculiar mix of innocence and violence in Bob. He brings a sweetness to the character and makes him borderline endearing. Bob can't remember anything and is desperately attempting to piece together how he came to have the life that he does, which includes a wife and two children. In one scene, he says: Main accha aadmi hoon ya bura, yaad nahi hai.
Like I said, an instantly delicious idea. Which Sujoy proceeds to squander with a curiously lame script. The first sequence, in which we are introduced to a drug called Blue and a villain named Ustaad, sets the tone. Teenagers, under pressure to perform, are gobbling Blue like it is candy. Ustaad looks at one desperate, scrambling boy and declares: Aaj kal ke bacche apne maa baap ki nahi sunte lekin Blue ke liye kuch bhi karne ko tayaar hain. Bob gets embroiled in the mess. The stakes get personal. And the killing begins.
But the narrative is neither suspenseful nor believable. Kahaani, in which a heavily pregnant woman turned out to have been faking it all along, also asked us to suspend disbelief but Sujoy, who shared a story credit with Advaita Kala, and his additional screenplay writers Nikhil Vyas and Suresh Nair, camouflaged the bumps with terrific characters and taut storytelling. Sujoy also expertly mined the contradictions of Kolkata – the city was at once, old and new, sleepy and frenzied, comforting and deadly.
Bob Biswas has little of these atmospherics. Bob's home has a terrace which overlooks water, buildings and has a train track running in the distance. It provides him a safe space from the mayhem outside. He first makes a deeper connection with his wife here. But mostly the locations, like the story and characters, are generic. The most memorable character in the film is Kali da played with a superb Yoda-like serenity by Paran Bandopadhyay. Kali da is an elderly man who dispenses wisdom and homeopathic medicine, or so we think. The film hints that Kali da has also had a colorful past. If there is a spin-off from this spin-off, I recommend it focus on Kali da.
The beauty of Bob Biswas was his cold-hearted efficiency. His clients sent him photos on the phone. And he killed without asking questions. But in this film, Bob has a crisis of conscience, which even takes him to a confessional at church. The storytelling doesn't have the depth to explore this existential angst fully so it just undermines the character. Bob is neither a fearsome killer nor a convincing reformed criminal. Also, unlike the characters in Kahaani – remember the compassionate cop Satyaki, played by Parambrata Chatterjee or the volatile intelligence bureau officer Khan, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui – the supporting players here are imminently forgettable. Chitrangda Singh as Bob's wife Mary has little to do. And by the time we hit the climax, the film is in freefall. Anything is possible.
Sujoy is one of Hindi cinema's leading directors of thrillers. It's hard to gauge Diya's ability to follow in her father's footsteps because this film is so badly hobbled by the script. The last straw is a diary which contains the details of murders and must be retrieved at all costs. Which took me back to the climax of Don in 1978 in which a similar diary was being tossed between the good guys and the bad guys. I think it's time criminals upgraded to a digital record of their crimes.
Bob Biswas is streaming on ZEE5.