‘Bob Biswas’ Review: Abhishek Bachchan’s casting as Bob leaves a lot to be desired

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

We first got introduced to the character of Bob Biswas in Sujoy Ghosh's 2012 film 'Kahaani'. An insurance sales agent who moonlights as a contract killer, Bob came across as a rather uncanny yet believable character. Brilliantly portrayed by Saswata Chatterjee while combining an equal dose of eeriness and dark humor, the character became an instant favorite. And, after years of anticipation, Sujoy Ghosh in collaboration with Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment has finally come out with a full-fledged film for ZEE5 based on Bob and with Abhishek Bachchan essaying the part instead of Chatterjee. The film, directed by Diya Annapurna Ghosh, also stars Chitrangada Singh, Paran Bandopadhyay, Ditipriya Roy, Purab Kohli and Samara Tijori in the pivotal roles. 

Almost all origin stories are weighed down by expectations and comparisons. The fans of the original of course are keen to watch it and yet at the same time they are usually a little wary. Sometimes the high expectations and the emotional attachment to the original can also make them overly critical in their scrutiny of the new offering. The best origin stories are always mindful of two things, above everything else. First, there has to be enough on offer for the fans of the original as one certainly doesn’t want to antagonize or alienate them. Second, it should also be able to stand on its own for the benefit of new viewers as one obviously wants to grow your viewership. Often the worst origin stories fail on both these counts. 

Now, Bob Biswas is neither a great origin story nor a particularly bad one. The film has its moments but it is also flawed in so many ways. Speaking of the film's strengths, Sujoy Ghosh's screenplay stands out for its great attention to detail. Although, the storyline is nowhere near as fascinating as ‘Kahaani’ or ‘Badla,’ there are enough twists and turns to keep the viewer hooked until the end. Paran Bandopadhyay’s performance as Kali Da is a major highlight of the film. Here’s is a fascinating character that deserves a spinoff of its own. Purab Kohli also delivers a memorable performance. Ditipriya Roy and Samara Tijori are also solid in their respective roles. 

The Bob Biswas from ‘Kahaani’ is a cold blooded killer who doesn’t hesitate before pulling the trigger regardless of who the victim is. He has no remorse in even pushing a pregnant woman onto the rail tracks. His only credo is to fulfill the mission that he is assigned. And Saswata captured the character’s mannerisms so well in ‘Kahaani’. Now, there is no denying that Abhishek Bachchan is an earnest actor. Regardless of what his detractors say, he takes his work very seriously. And the same is true of his portrayal of Bob. In fact, this really is the farthest he seems to have pushed himself till date in a bid to make his Bob as identical to Saswata’s as possible. But, the trouble is that a well known actor like Abhishek Bachchan may never play an out and out bad character. And it’s not just the case with Bollywood. In Hollywood also we have actors like Tom Hanks who wouldn’t play out and out bad characters. During the golden age, there were James Stewart and Cary Grant who wouldn’t play killers.

Now, even when Abhishek plays a killer in say ‘Breathe: Into the Shadows,' the character’s outrageous villainy has to be balanced using an alter ego. Similarly, his Bob has to have a redeeming quality. In the film, we meet a Bob who is a family man. He dearly loves his wife and children. Yes, he is an assassin but he refuses to kill a woman who is trying to fight the drug mafia. Therein lies the rub. For, the moment you associate those redeeming qualities, he ceases to be what he is supposed to be—a remorseless killer. Bob Biswas is Bob Biswas because he is a killing machine. He isn’t supposed to think or feel before carrying out his missions. And, so, Abhishek Bachchan’s casting as Bob leaves a lot to be desired.     

Interestingly, in his defense, Sujoy said that he wanted to steer clear of ‘Kahaani’. And yet the manner in which he ends the film, it deliberately connects Bob to Vidya Balan's thread from ‘Kahaani’. Another problematic aspect of ‘Bob Biswas’ is the weak chemistry between Bachchan and Chitrangda Singh who essays the part of Biswas’ wife. Also, the film is not really a proper origin story in that it doesn’t take us to the very beginning of Biswas’ journey; we only meet him mid way. It certainly would be an interesting exercise to explore Biswas’ true origins, starting with his childhood. Perhaps, Sujoy has a few more films for the ‘Kahaani’ franchise in his mind. 

A version of this review was first published at The Daily Guardian.

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