Bob Biswas starts with plenty of promise, but by the end, the portraiture of “Bob da” is neither a character study nor the axis around which an engrossing thriller unfolds.
Abhishek Bachchan is largely successful in portraying the exterior tension and drama that surrounds him in ‘Bob Biswas’. He plays the role with restraint and rigour.
Diya Annapurna Ghosh’s debut feature film Bob Biswas (on Zee5) takes off from Sujay Ghosh’s hit thriller Kahaani (2012). Her film’s titular character is a chilling presence in Kahaani—a middle-class Bengali Everyman contract killer.
A bored employee in an insurance company who hates his job, his physicality—bulbous eyes screaming from behind thick-rimmed glasses, as he breathlessly trudges his bulky frame to Kolkata’s railway platforms, markets and cul-de-sacs—and his ordinariness, he’s the perfect lynchpin for the city’s organised crime cabals. He shoots effortlessly and precisely, and vanishes from the crime scene without a trace. His two words to his targets seconds before he kills them: “Ek minit…”
In the narrative scheme of Kahaani, with its tense rhythm and explosive pay-offs, Bob Biswas was a singularly intriguing presence. Sujoy Ghosh resurrects Bob Biswas with this new film as story and screenplay writer. So what propels the “ek minit” man? What is his back story? How did he survive the ghastly accident, his end in Kahaani? What kind of psychological numbing drives his duplicity? The many shades of villainy, when explored deeply in fiction, can be as telling of an age and a society, as can heroism. So what does Bob Biswas represent—wherefrom does his exceptional ability to take human lives with cool alacrity originate?
Bob Biswas starts with plenty of promise, but by the film’s rather vanilla climax, the portraiture of “Bob da” is neither a character study nor the axis around which an engrossing thriller unfolds—the few months of Bob’s post-coma life that Bob Biswas explores has few arresting twists or layers plot-wise, or as a stand-alone character study.
Abhishek Bachchan plays the lead role with relish and enough physical transformation for a taste of the authentic. Streaming has been Bachchan’s long-awaited stab at roles that require immersiveness, and this role ought to have given him a largesse to delve into. But the character’s authenticity ends pretty much in the physicality, in his overt Bengaliness—which also unfortunately feels like a broad stroke because Kolkata’s Anglo-Indian community has its own distinct provincial grain, and Bob doesn’t inhabit or impersonate any of that.
We meet Bob when he returns home after getting out of coma. With his wife Mary (a staid and monotone Chitrangda Singh), who has the attention of all the men surrounding him and using him, and his bespectacled, pre-teen son. He doesn’t recognise his wife and son because he has amnesia. In an iconic black-yellow ambassador taxi, they arrive home. He discovers he also has a step-daughter Jenny (Samara Tijori) from Mary’s first marriage to David who died. Jenny is obsessed with clearing a medical entrance test.
Soon enough, without much gain or motivation, Bob is back to what he does best—shoot. A drug cartel targeting young students, peddling a banned drug that was meant to be a cure for attention deficit disorder popularly known among students as Blue, draws Jenny as well as Bob into the universe of the helplessly medicated. Drug abuse is a big theme in the film, but there is no agency to those affected by it. The young in Bob Biswas, the victims of the drug cartel, have no character. They are simply victims—flat, troublesome and dumb.
As Bob begins to remember his past, he realises he has secrets that will destroy all that he has in his second life. The film is predicated on how he will absolve himself, and retain the little he has left of worldly credence.
It is frustrating to watch Bob, by all measure an extraordinary criminal, straddle his bipolarity without any sense of anguish. His signature emotions are regret and remorse—highly unconvincing in a character whose blueprint rests on a tug-of-war between opposites. Bachchan is largely successful in portraying the exterior tension and drama that surrounds him. He plays the role with restraint and rigour.
In the role of a police officer with pluck, resourcefulness and the street smarts, Tina Desai is competent. In her debut role, Samara Tijori shows promise. The role of Kali da, an elderly homeopath ensconced in his cavernous store-cum-clinic—a delightfully imaginative Kolkata touch—that acts as a safe instrument for violence, is rife with the possibility of an entire character study, perhaps even another film.
The cinematography by Gairik Sarkar captures Kolkata in sensory details—almost a facsimile of the visual configuration of Kahaani’s Kolkata. The film has a racy tempo, with ebbs in-between. Overall, it is a competent debut for the young director. But despite over two hours of running time with Bob da in almost every frame, we know little of Bob Biswas—the reason, despite the terrific premise, watching Bob Biswas can be a deeply unsatisfying experience.