Why Kahaani's Bob Biswas is a national obsession

By Sourav Majumdar

For a Facebook page which started in March 2012, it already has 9,275 ‘likes’, and counting. But this figure is hardly surprising given the rage which he has become in a span of  just under a month.

Meet fictional contract killer Bob Biswas, a character made famous by the recent thriller Kahaani, the Sujoy Ghosh-directed Vidya Balan film set in the bylanes and dark underbelly of Kolkata.

“There's no psychopathic laughter. No twitching. No punch dialogue. He is the friendly neighbourhood hired assassin. He is Bob Biswas,” says the Facebook page, introducing the character who has at once terrified the nation and captivated it with the cold-blooded, yet callous manner in which he carries out his assignments. Biswas has a trademark line: “Nomoshkar…ek minute,” before whipping out his gun and finishing off his victim. The Nomoshkar…line is setting the social media afire these days.

What is striking about the man is the duality of his nature – an ordinary face in the crowd by day and a menacing, ruthless hitman when darkness falls.

Essayed to perfection by well-known Bengali actor Saswata Chatterjee, son of the late Subhendu Chatterjee who was himself a popular actor of his time, Biswas is the quintessential Bengali, bespectacled, middle-aged insurance agent by day and a contract killer by night.

What is striking about the man is the duality of his nature – an ordinary face in the crowd by day and a menacing, ruthless hitman when darkness falls. In fact, during the day Biswas is often hassled by his boss and keeps telling him that he is getting calls from clients on his cellphone when in reality it is the sinister assignments that keep his phone busy.

For 43-year old Chatterjee, who even played Topshe, the ‘satellite’ to Satyajit Ray’s legendary fictional detective Feluda in a television series in his younger days, Bob Biswas is his ticket to nationwide stardom, albeit in a negative role. Chatterjee, who is now a veteran of several movies and popular Bengali television serials, is now the toast of Hindi cinema for bringing to life a character which, despite limited screen time, has a great deal of complexity and could easily have been botched up by overacting. But Chatterjee does a superlative job of it, with an understated yet awe-inspiring performance which rises above most others in the film.

In Kahaani, Chatterjee has to share screen time with several other talented actors besides Vidya Balan, who is herself on a dream run these days.  But it’s the pot-bellied, balding and bedraggled Bob Biswas who has emerged as the real find of Kahaani, heralding Saswata Chatterjee’s arrival in mainstream Hindi cinema with a bang, pun intended.

What is it about Bob Biswas which has captivated the audiences so much? In a sense, the fact that Biswas is the very antithesis of a typical contract killer is his USP.

Long used to burly, tough and violent looking men playing such parts, Indian cinema has not been used to a hitman who is unassuming and benign on the outside, but ruthless and devilish on the inside. In fact, in one sequence, the unfit Biswas nearly collapses out of fatigue when being chased by police through the bylanes of Kolkata. This is not your usual hired assassin, by any stretch.

“It is his trivial treatment to murder that amuses us, and we sincerely believe it is something we all should take a note of. And applaud. This page is a tribute not just to the character that Bob is, but also to the writer's, director's and the actor's efforts that have gone into its making,” says the Bob Biswas' Facebook page, underscoring why the character is the current national obsession.

As fans will testify, Bob Biswas proves conclusively that looks can be deceptive. And for Saswata Chatterjee, who, in a recent interview with Mumbai Mirror admitted to an aversion for cellphones, meaty parts in more Hindi films are, perhaps, a phone call away. Kahaani just added an exciting new twist to the story of his life.