The Cult of Bob Biswas


Living in New York City has its perks. Hindi movies on the big screen are never too far away.

My flatmate was away for a bit. I wanted a fun-filled Saturday. Being away from Irvine and in an action-packed city, I seemed to have almost forgotten the pleasure of watching movies in theaters. Being away from the esteemed company of my friends in Irvine has a lot to do with it, probably. It’s a wonderful thing to pass Bangalore-referencing InternetMeme-referencing half-funny comments while watching a movie.

I decided to watch Kahaani, given that it was very highly rated by virtually everyone who had watched the movie.  Turned out, Midtown East housed a Big Cinemas. As in Reliance. Wow. Samosas for snacks. Impressive. The theater marketed itself as a place where you could watch international movies, French and Italian and Korean and everything else, not just Indian ones. Brilliant move; this way, you attract not just a desi crowd, but also the hipster avant-garde international film-watching New Yorkers.

Oh, and I watched this movie all by myself. Know what, apart from the cashier’s sharp “ONE ticket?!’, there’s no indication of anyone giving a damn about your watching a movie alone. I miss funny comments and all that, but I ended up passing random comments and predicting the next few scenes with these two Indian-American didis who I was sitting next to. Was totally random fun. Especially when they termed the movie a combination of Kill Bill and Salt. Don’t ask me how that conclusion was reached.

Anyway. The Cult Of Bob Biswas.

For those who haven’t yet watched Kahaani, Bob Biswas is an assassin-for-hire. Unlike the usual solidly-built seven-footer types or the extremely lithe, ‘hai-yaa’-screaming martial artist types who usually play the roles of paid assassins, Bob Biswas wears thick coke-bottom classes, works at a desk job at an insurance firm (LIC?), is always on the brink of being fired, is chubby, short and stocky, doesn’t come anywhere close to being called fit. Oh, and he’s asthmatic, too (Oh, and the chief villain in the movie has a rare blood group…. no dearth of medical issues in the movie).

Fascinating, right?

Totally. While the internet is not exploding with Bob Biswas references, the number of folks chattering about him is undeniably increasing.

Not unexpected. Bollywood produces too few memorable movies, and even fewer memorable leads, forget about memorable interesting fringe characters. Unless you watch movies as avidly as Dipta Chaudhuri, your chances of coming across a memorable character in mainstream Bollywood movies is rather low. Bob Biswas is rare enough to stick to the mind long after you’re done watching him. And we can’t deny he’s interesting either.

And what exactly makes him so memorable? To start with, I’d say he’s exactly the sort of character we would love to come up with while performing improv. Reminds me of the time these two guys spent the better part of 20 minutes doing a mom-son thing where the mom was abusive and kept making the son’s life comically miserable. We got all invested in the comically sobbing son, when he upped and killed the mother, and turned out to be a serial killer. All in comic fashion, of course. And all totally improvised.

It is really fun when two totally opposing ideas come together and actually work out, in improv. It’s not always a sure thing. A happy guy and a sad guy? Surely. Two totally excited guys? Totally, when they match each others’ energy levels, there’s only one way it goes. An excited guy and a bored guy? Mmm… not so much. A totally subdued type turning out to be a badass killer? Why not?

For all purposes, Bob Biswas is just a fun thing to play with. The very idea doesn’t make much sense, or we don’t have enough to go by to make such a character believable. How’d he get so good at murder, how does he lay low, how does he advertise and get his business, does he not have any enemies who’d be equally or more powerful and finish him off, and how does he go undetected and stay alive with all this?

Unless these questions are satisfyingly answered, Bob Biswas will never become a full-fledged spinoff or a full-length novel material.

But obviously, the writers of Kahaani never intended him to be all that (and there are plenty of characters that succeed without much of a backstory).  Or anything apart from being some guy who gets caught and betrays the guy who hired him. They just thought to up the fun a little. I can picture the writers at a brainstorming session, and someone saying “What if he’s just a mamooli guy you see on the street and don’t even register?”.  Most of the folks in the session would have laughed, cracked a couple of jokes and then someone else sees a workable idea taking shape, decides to go with it just to see what it leads to, adds details to solidify the character (“Let’s also give him a boring job… hey, I once had a roommate who worked at LIC, didn’t do a single thing….”), et voila.

When I think of it this way instead of just letting the idea for the character simmer in the backburner of my brain, I don’t anymore find him all that fascinating. But I still do smile a little that what would have been an absurd unworkable idea while whiteboarding was actually taken seriously, its merits recognized, and they actually gave it a form on the big screen.

Not every absurd idea is a good one, and not all of them merit precious time spent on them. But it is good to see how an idea, with some work done to it, can be fascinating, and feel like a rich contribution. And… I’m also glad for these successes, for it makes people – bosses, financiers, folks in jobs that require creative output – more inclined to say ‘Yes, and..’ to seemingly crazy ideas that come their way.

PS: This.

About wanderlust

just your average books-and-music person who wants to change the world.
This entry was posted in analysis, movies, Review and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Cult of Bob Biswas

  1. Lemuria says:

    This comment is not specific to this post. Have been following your blog for a while (from 2009), wanted to compliment on the writing style. Comparing instances and citing references to US and Bangalore, gives a feeling of virtualization. Your observation on nuances and highlighting them with the flow is good.

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