Starring Abhishek Bachchan, Chitrangda Singh
Directed by Diya Annapurna Ghosh
With that affable angelic semi-smile and eyes that never tell lies, Bob Biswas, as played by Abhishek Bachchan in one of his finest performances, looks like anything but an assassin. But there you have it. A bhadralok who looks like anything but a killer, snuffing out lives as though on a population-control drive.
Bob’s first murder is so sudden unexpected and the target is guilty of such a minor social transgression that I burst out laughing when it happens. Young debutante Diya Ghosh’s film is a puzzle of a film. The killings aren’t meant to be funny(they never are). But some of them are so incongruous with the mood of the moment that one can’t help laughing at the sheer absurdity of it.
At heart, Bob Biswas is a very sad film. It is about dangerous attention-arresting drugs, second chances, sexual harassment at work, pesky neighbours, chowmein sellers with violent skills and homeopathic medicines. It is the story of a middleaged man with a receding hairline and a chance of rehabilitation to match the hairline, trying hard to heal old wounds.
Abhishek Bachchan with his bewildered expression and bemused responses to the world around him, is the pitch-perfect Bob Biswas. Murderously innocent, hopelessly lost in a Kolkata he abandoned many years ago. Now he reclaims a city, a life and a family that have moved on. With tragic consequences.
The family, though, is not quite the hiccup that Bob can wish away. Chitrangda Singh as Bob’s wife is mysteriously unobtainable. The tender moments between Singh and Bachchan, beautifully subdued and silken, reminded me of an old Prakash Mehra film Haseena Maan Jayegi where wife Babita isn’t sure whether her war-returned husband is her husband or his twin brother.
You wish Bob would find his mojo again. But life is never kind to those with a dark past. Nemesis catches up with Bob in ways that are most unexpected and brutal. Sujoy Ghosh’s screenplay owes its tone of savage grace to Korean cinema where awful things happen to good people whose lives spin out of control.
You want good things to happen to Bob, partly because he is played by the convivial Bachchan. More to the point, Bob’s killings are so bereft of malice. He pulls the trigger because… well,he has to. The narrative is nubile in its expressions of love and violence. Past transgressions and present atonement.
As in Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani, Kolkata is captured in all its bustling glory. Thankfully no Durga Puja shows up during the course of the plot. The casting, both big and small, is impeccable. Specially outstanding are veteran Bengali actor Paran Bandyopadhyay as a homeopathic medicine dealer with deadly secrets and Purab Kohli as a slimy drug dealer who belts out R D Burman’s Duniya mein logon ko in both RD and Asha Bhosle’s voices. Newcomer Samara Tijori has an important role as Bob’s stepdaughter. She is a confident debutant.
Bob Biswas appears deceptively tranquil on the surface. As the deep disturbances bubble to the surface we know what Bob Biswas doesn’t. There are no second chances in life.