Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Chitrangda Singh, Paran Bandopadhyay, Pavitra Rabha, Barun Chanda, Vishwanath Chatterjee
Director: Diya Annapurna Ghosh
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
A man with a past he cannot remember. A film with a past we cannot forget. Together, they should have instantly caught our imagination. In the first quarter, they almost do. And then, a degree of monotony sets in and engulfs the film. Neither Bob Biswas the thriller written by Sujoy Ghosh nor Bob Biswas the killer fleshed out by Abhishek Bachchan can hold a candle to their respective forerunners.
Bob Biswas, a spin-off from the character that Saswata Chatterjee absolutely nailed in 2012's unforgettable Kahaani, is a disappointingly pale figure who anything but replicates the chilling effect that the original assassin had on the audience. With an entire film devoted to him and his muddled motives, Bob has too much riding on him. He often wilts under the burden.
There is little in Bob Biswas (barring the broad dimensions of the character and the neighbourhoods and dark alleys of Kolkata) that is consciously designed to recall the principal elements that Kahaani was composed of. That is, in a way, serves to prevent the film from being a mere Kahaani follow-up.
Bob Biswas, streaming on Zee5, has its own slow-burn rhythm punctuated with bursts of action. Parts of it are eminently watchable, even intermittently gripping. The end result is, however, somewhat underwhelming.
First-time director Diya Annapurna Ghosh delivers a slick and steady film. Yet, it isn't as persuasive and propulsive as the cinematic work that gave birth to the eponymous character.
The protagonist has no remembrance of things past. The audience, on its part, does have memories of Sujoy Ghosh's crackling Vidya Balan-led Kahaani. Comparisons, odious as they might be, are inevitable. We look for the same kind of frisson in this kahaani woven around one of the supporting characters who acquired a life and logic of his own in the 2012 film. The expectations remain largely unfulfilled.
That is not to say Bob Biswas has nothing going for it. It is a well-crafted film all right. It has its share of striking moments. The screenplay hinges around a banned drug called Blue, which helps students tide over their exam blues. Bob is sucked into the world of the peddlers.
Bob returns to 'normal' existence after lying in coma for eight years. He is unable to recall anything that happened before an accident rendered him hors de combat. He unknowingly wades into the Kolkata underworld and is trapped in the dangerous machinations of ruthless drug dealers, corrupt policemen and their violent henchmen.
Inspector Indira Verma (Tina Desai), following the killing of a criminal and his accomplices outside a seedy bar, is on the trail of the murderer. Bob is on her radar.
The man now has a wife, Mary (Chitrangda Singh), a daughter, Mini (debutante Samara Tijori), and a school-going son, Benny (Ronith Arora). He also gets his old job as a life insurance agent back although if logic were to be strictly applied, he is supposed to have no recollection at all of what the work entails.
The past chases him and, halfway through the film, he begins to recognise parts of it. One such flash is related to a man he killed in his pre-amnesia phase and it leads to a reveal so crucial that it is nearly akin to a mini-climax sprung too early. Another involves Bob stumbling upon currency notes that he stashed away many years ago only to forget where he had kept them.
Like Bob, the teenage Mini, who is preparing for her medical entrance test, has an issue with her memory. To alleviate the mounting stress, she keeps popping the blue tablets that are all the rage among young people under pressure to do well academically. Bob has little time to devote to attend to family matters although the film is determined to humanise him. Before he can sort out his life - and mind - the cops and criminals on his trail rope him into their universe. He is completely non-plussed but plays along. He asks a cop who knows more than he does: "Maine yeh kaam pehle bhi aap logon ke liye kiya hai (Have I done this sort of work for you before)?"
A mysterious old pharmacist Kali Krishna Paul (veteran Bengali film, television and theatre actor Paran Bandopadhyay, who does a Saswata Chatterjee here by upstaging the principal actors) helps Bob ease back into the life that he left behind.
Kali Da, as Bob calls the smooth-talking chemist, provides him with the means that he requires in order to do the bidding of his 'masters'. "Mujhe kuch yaad nahi hai par kaam phir se shuru karna hai (I do not remember anything but I have to resume my work)", Bob says. Kali Da alludes to the mythological serpent Kaliya, a creature so full of poison that he was doomed to be destructive and it took Lord Krishna to tame him.
Is Bob tameable? He hopes to live down his past behind him and lead a stable, uneventful life. But the drug dealers - Ustaad (Kaushik Raj Chakraborty) and Bubaai (Purab Kohli in a special appearance) - and two Special Branch policemen - Jishu (Bhanu Uday Goswami) and Kharaj (Vishwanath Chatterjee) - draw him into situations that see him shooting people dead without batting an eyelid.
Bob's cold, clinical approach to the act of killing is, of course, rooted in his inability to remember why he is doing what he is doing. He simply receives a photograph on a flip phone handed to him by the two policemen, seeks out the person he is ordered to kill, and pulls the trigger without betraying any emotion at all.
The anti-hero conducts himself like a wound-up automaton unmindful of the grave danger that he courts every time he steps out with a gun in his bag. The audience knows that he is exposing himself to grave risk; Bob himself has no clue. Strangely, we feel no real tension despite being aware of Bob's vulnerability.
The lack of sustained intensity in his relationships - with his wife, his son, his daughter, a pastor (Barun Chanda) who is his moral guide and a roadside noodles shop owner Dhonu (Pavitra Rabha) who is beholden to him for the help Bob once extended to him - prevents us from developing any concrete idea of the turmoil raging in Bob's mind and heart.
The lead actor employs a stony visage, a pair of gawky eyes and an unsteady gait to convey the blurry state of character's mind. All the effort notwithstanding, Abhishek Bachchan's Bob Biswas never quite jumps out of the screen.
The director, aided by cinematographer Gairik Sarkar, makes a fair fist of harnessing the technical resources at her disposal. But the film's surface sheen is unable to paper over the paucity of power in the pivotal performance and the plot. Both seem overly laboured, making Bob Biswas a tame, middling affair.
Abhishek Bachchan, Chitrangda Singh, Paran Bandopadhyay, Pavitra Rabha, Barun Chanda, Vishwanath Chatterjee