Bob Biswas, the poker-faced insurance agent from Sujoy Ghosh’s 2012 cult classic Kahaani gets a spin off. This one is written by Sujoy and directed by his daughter Diya Annapurna Ghosh. Here Bob Biswas, we are told, wakes up from a coma after years and has lost his memory. But the deal is that we remember everything.
In fact, Bob Biswas (pronounced Bob Bishash in Bengali) isn’t the kind one can forget easily. His deadpan face and steely cold psychotic stare can send a chill down the spine even now.
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Played by Saswata Chatterjee in the original, it’s now Abhishek Bachchan on whose nose rest Bob’s signature square frames. Carrying the cross-body sling bag, heavy footed Abhishek’s Bob trudges along but it isn’t easy to erase the memory of Saswata Chatterjee who breathed life into this character.
Bob Biswas the film, one soon realizes is an attempt to humanize a deadly assassin. Bob might not have a bank of memory for easy access but he has a pretty wife (played by Chitrangada Singh), a young son and a daughter. Also, since his reputation holds him in good stead, he soon gets to wield a gun too.
Abhishek must have our sympathies since his is a tough task. He has to step into the shoes of a character made iconic by another actor. The whole “he has lost his memory” ploy therefore is probably to take some load off him. Tabula rasa– a blank slate so Abhishek can worry less and play it the way he wants. Bob tries to acclimatize to readymade family and alien surroundings with a strange bovine obedience.
Careful to not reveal spoilers one can only say that Bob’s “pre coma” histrionics now appear to be like muscle memory. The portions that work the best are the ones where both Bob and we the viewers are wondering about the veracity of the claims being made. There is a drug cartel in Kolkata city, some police officials inhabiting both sides of the moral spectrum, and a few who appear to be helping and directing him on his next course of action.
As long as the veil of doubt and subterfuge makes us look suspiciously at every lingering stare or movement Bob Biswas has us hooked. But instead of dialing up the intrigue when it tries to neatly tie up all loose ends that’s when it derails.
The appeal of Bob Biswas lied in the fact that he didn’t “look” like the dreadful killer that he was. An avuncular familiarity, the kind of uncle type figure with strange hair and paunch who could walk past us and we wouldn’t give him a second look. That such a dull veneer could hide such sinister villainy is what made Bob Biswas stand out.
If we have a film with him in the center it feels like a betrayal that in our rush to humanize him, we rob him of his shades of deep grey. His duplicity, the dichotomy that defines his existence!
Instead of delving into his motivations from a psychological perspective, trying to fathom the inner workings of this man we are given a quick resolution in definite black and white compartments. It robs Bob of the fascinating eccentricity that embellished his dark dreadful side.
Bob deserved a better spin off. This film tells us all about Bob that we never really wanted to know.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5.