Bob Biswas: Kahaani spin-off has no identity of its own, but expects Abhishek Bachchan’s assassin to find his

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A stylistic departure from the relatively realistic Kahaani, Bob Biswas is an unnecessary spin-off about an amnesiac’s quest to discover who he really is, but ironically has no identity of its own. Casting Abhishek Bachchan in a role that was originally played by Saswata Chatterjee isn’t the film’s only act of nepotism; Bob Biswas is captained by Kahaani director Sujoy Ghosh’s daughter, Diya Annapurna.

Gone is the sinister griminess of Kolkata from that film; Diya Annapurna gives the spin-off a near-fantastical sheen that only demands further suspension of disbelief on the audience’s part. So, instead of memorable scenes set on the platforms of Kolkata’s ancient metro, we see several sanitised sequences inside the ‘Paris Bar’. And although Bob frequently makes pit-stops at a chowmein ‘thela’, the film’s deliberately heightened reality removes any possibility of you sensing the heat emanating from the wok, or smelling the sizzling aromatics that a good director would have made sure you do.

It will be obvious to most viewers that the father-daughter duo has borrowed heavily from not just the central premise of the Jason Bourne franchise—Bob, too, is an amnesiac who finds that he has rather deadly muscle memory—but also the comic book-inspired world-building of the John Wick series. The most glaring example of this are the scenes set inside the aforementioned bar, and a pharmacy operated by a mysterious old gent named Kali Da.

Played by Paran Bandhopadhyay, Kali Da is the only character who speaks with a Bengali accent, which is weird, considering that Bob Biswas is a Bengal-based film. He dispenses not only medicines, but also wisdom, and essentially functions as the concierge character from the John Wick movies. It is heavily implied that there is more to Kali Da than meets the eye.

But Ghosh’s unfocused script doesn’t know whether to lean into the character study elements of the story or focus on the dark comedy that the movie briefly teases it could’ve been. It should also be pointed out that Junior Bachchan is no Keanu Reeves, let alone Matt Damon or Saswata Chatterjee. The hoarse whisper that he has seemingly decided is an indication of his seriousness as an actor is getting a bit tired now, especially because he has insisted on adopting it in every project since his ‘comeback’ film Manmarziyaan.

That was the only time it worked. But Bob Biswas needed an easy charm; a quiet creepiness. Just because Bob looks unremarkable doesn’t mean that he must have a plain personality. Every attempt by the filmmakers at investigating Bob’s morality fails remarkably.

So, Bob can have crises of conscience about whether or not he is a good man, but his knee-jerk response to an annoying neighbour is to murder him in cold blood. Now, consider how effectively the Bourne franchise exposed not just systemic corruption but also functioned as a revenge story about a man who rejects his violent past after having felt the warm embrace of compassion. There was an effort to ground the high-stakes plot. Even John Wick was motivated by love—for his dead wife and murdered dog. But all evidence suggests that Bob is actually a terrible person. And we’re supposed to care about him, why?

There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. You’re allowed to make movies about bad people, but then, those movies shouldn’t spend an inordinate amount of time trying to humanise them. Those movies should, instead, double down on their wickedness and examine the traumas that made them turn out this way. Zero effort is made in trying to figure out why Bob became a hitman in the first place.

The tabula rasa approach only complicates matters—Bob awakens from an eight-year coma, presumably after the accident he suffered in Kahaani, with no memory and a new face. But if this movie is set after the events of Kahaani, then why does it end with him getting Vidya Bagchi’s contract? And why does Junior give a knowing smile when he sees her face on his ancient Motorola? What does he know?

The deeply-confusing narrative is further muddled by the filmmakers’ decision to empty a subplot about illicit drug trade into a story that was already boiling with density. But that is besides the point. What made both the Jason Bourne and John Wick franchises so special is how lean they were. Despite all the accoutrements, those movies never lost sight of the one-man’s-journey plot at their core. Bob Biswas is, ultimately, as aimless as its namesake protagonist. And like him, it isn’t very good.

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