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Bob Biswas: The backstory of a villain that makes him a hero

Abhishek & Chitrangda get candid about Sujoy Ghosh’s thriller that has been extensively shot in Kolkata

Sudeshna Banerjee | Published 01.12.21, 02:33 AM
Chitrangda Singh with Abhishek Bachchan during the shooting of Bob Biswas in Calcutta

Chitrangda Singh with Abhishek Bachchan during the shooting of Bob Biswas in Calcutta

Sourced by the correspondent

A contract killer who has lost his memory. Abhishek Bachchan is playing an intriguing character who has sprung to titular eminence from an eight-minute appearance in the 2012 film Kahaani in this Friday’s Zee5 release Bob Biswas. The chat begins with t2 enquiring after his right hand, fractured on the sets some months back. The good news is it has almost totally healed, he says, before turning to the film that was shot extensively in Kolkata and has him playing a Bengali for the second time in his Hindi film career.

Abhishek Bachchan as Bob Biswas

Abhishek Bachchan as Bob Biswas

Bob Biswas is trending ever since Amitabh Bachchan praised your work on Twitter after the trailer launch. For you, does the comment come from an acting legend or a doting father?

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Apart from being his son, I am a huge fan of his. Every time the great

Mr Amitabh Bachchan writes about anybody’s work, it is a matter of huge pride for the person. I am no different. As a younger actor, it is an honour for me that he has found time to see the promo and talk about the film. I am overwhelmed. It is an endorsement that at the end of the day all your hard work is going in the right direction.

He ended his tweet (“I am proud to say you are my Son!”) with a series of letters — BYCMJBBN. What do they stand for?

That’s between my father and me. (smiles) He spoke to me at home too.

Do you sit with your parents for their appraisal after a work of yours releases?

Of course. Everybody does that, right, with their parents? In my case, both my parents are accomplished actors. After we see anybody’s work, anybody in the family, we all sit down and praise or criticise. It’s a very normal phenomenon.

You shot extensively in Kolkata in two stints. How was that experience?

Yes, in February 2020 and then in December 2020 when we came back after the lockdown. I love shooting in Kolkata. The city has given me and my family a lot of love. But this is the first time I shot so widely in so many different locations. Thanks to Sujoy (Ghosh, the writer and co-producer) , I saw a side of Kolkata that I was not privy to. It was such a joyous time for me. As most people will tell you, there are few places on earth that are better than Kolkata in winter.

You have shot in Kolkata before for Yuva and Antarmahal.

Ji. But those were short stints. I did a short stint for Ravan as well.

What did you discover about the city this time?

We shot a lot in Tangra. That side of the city, Chinatown, I had not known about before. I got to eat a lot of great streetfood. Undoubtedly, the best food in India is in Kolkata —best kathi roll, best biryani... Nolen gur is any foodie’s dream.

Did you try the Tangra Chinese?

Yes, I did. Sujoy got some for me. That was awesome.

Coming to your role, are you aware of any other instance in the Hindi film industry where a minor character in a film has been fleshed out into another full-fledged film?

Not that I can remember. But I saw Bob Biswas as a unique, standalone project.

What kind of briefing did Diya (Annapurna Ghosh, the director) give you?

We spent a lot of time in prep. There are so many subtexts and layers that one can go into. We spent months in discussions. She was clear on how she saw the character. And what was nice is she was very open to suggestions.

A killer who has lost his memory. There must have been a balance that you had to strike between such a man’s vulnerability and his sinister side?

Yes. That was part of the fun of the character — someone so unassuming, sweet and soft but doing such a cold-hearted job. That contradiction is something that really attracted me to the character.

What about the look test? How long did it take to finalise the wig?

It’s not a wig. It’s a prosthetic head. To be very honest, we only needed one look test. But that was after months of preparation. We nailed it in the first look itself. But obviously when we first decided to do the film together, I asked Diya to give me some time to put on weight.

How many kilos did you have to put on?

I became about 100-105kg from 85 kg.

How would you describe the film?

If I have to classify it, I’d describe it as a crime thriller.

You worked with two veteran Bengali actors, Rajatava Dutta and Paran Bandyopadhyay.

Yes, what an honour to get to work with such talent! Obviously I had a lot more work with Paran da. He was absolutely brilliant. I felt like a sponge, learning from them.

This was the second time you played a Bengali character in a Hindi film after Surya Sen in Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey. Did you have to speak any Bengali?

No. We stayed away from any accent or any Bengali word apart from nomoshkar. Sujoy was very clear about that when he wrote the script. It was a conscious decision.

Sujoy Ghosh recently said that you were the original choice as Bob Biswas in Kahaani and he had a different story in mind then. Why did it not work out?

When Sujoy spoke to me, I didn’t know it was for Kahaani. He told me about a script idea he had about a contract killer. At that point, I was just getting into shooting a film called Bol Bachchan. So I could not make the time for it. He had to go ahead and make the film. 

How had you reacted to Bob Biswas as a viewer when you saw Kahaani?

Actually I had not seen Kahaani when it released. I saw the film for the first time during lockdown last year. By then, 80 per cent of the shoot for Bob Biswas was already over.

It’s been 21 years since Refugee. One remembers you at a programme at Netaji Indoor Stadium, before the release of your debut film, where Rani Mukerji was trying to make you shake a leg on stage but you were shyly retreating to a corner. How difficult was the transition to a public persona?

Everybody starts off as shy. Slowly life teaches you to open up and become confident. There is a certain comfort in doing work and achieving acceptance. I don’t think it was any different with my colleagues.

You were recently in the Maldives on vacation where Aaradhya brought in her 10th birthday.

Yes. She is a happy, healthy child. And we can’t ask for more.

She seems to be docile and well-mannered.

Thank you. I will tell her mother (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). She gets the credit for that. (Smiles)

Jaya ji (Bachchan) completes 50 years in the industry. Which film of hers is your favourite?

There are several but I’d say Abhimaan.

Your film Single Slipper Size 7 also has you play a killer in a thriller. Is that meant for OTT and do thrillers work well on OTT?

We haven’t decided yet but most probably yes. I think thriller is a genre that has so far enjoyed a lot of success on that platform.

What news of another film of yours, Dasvi?

We finished shooting in April. The post-production is almost done. But that hopefully we will bring as a theatrical release.

After Ludo and Big Bull, Bob Biswas will be your third OTT film.

This film was envisioned for the theatres. We were making it before corona. Things change and we have to adapt. We are happy that we got a platform like Zee5, which is India’s largest homegrown OTT platform. Bob Biswas is one of those very few films which can traverse OTT and cinema seamlessly. The content in the film works very well in both OTT and cinema.

Are you one to visit cinema halls on a film’s release day?

I’ve been doing that since my first film. Most actors like to get a first-hand understanding of the reaction to their film. It’s a wonderful feeling to see these reactions. Also the magic of your film releasing on the big screen. They are all very memorable memories — going to Chandan and Gaiety Galaxy, famous cinema halls in Mumbai where I literally grew up watching films, to see yourself on the big screen. Every time you go a theatre to see your own film is memorable.

Would you go incognito or make a formal entrance?

Well, it is slightly difficult to go incognito when you are 6ft 3. I have heard stories of actresses, and sometimes actors, slipping in wearing burqa. But a 6.3ft burqa-clad person would stick out. So I go quietly. That (visiting theatres) is something you obviously can’t do on streaming platforms as everyone is watching in the privacy of one’s home.

How do you judge audience response for OTT releases?

Currently the only way, which I understood during Breathe, the web show I did last year, and the most accurate way to judge is through social media. It almost instantaneously gives you an idea of what they thought of your work. Till there is a different reporting system for OTT platforms, social media is doing that job. People write directly on my social media.

There has been a lot of talk about you doing Bob Biswas and not Saswata Chatterjee, who did the role in Kahaani, just as there has been talk about you not doing Bunty Aur Babli 2. Do you look at such situations philosophically?

It is what it is. You do the work that you do and try to do your best. There is no point being philosophical about it. Bob Biswas is a role I have tried to make my own. Once you see the film you will decide whether I have done a good job or not. You can’t get philosophical about these things. It is my film. I am happy Diya thought of me for the role and I hope I have done it justice. That’s all.

Chitrangda Singh

Chitrangda Singh in Bob Biswas

Chitrangda Singh in Bob Biswas

Tell us about your shooting experience in Kolkata.

I was in Kolkata for a month. That’s the longest time I have spent in the city. I reached in February and we shot till March 18 till the lockdown was announced. We were hoping to finish but had to stop. We came back in November and finished the film. Everything was on location. Even the house of Bob and Mary was constructed on an empty plot in a colony. Sujoy was very particular. I had gooseflesh when I heard on the second or third day that the house was a set and not a real house. The doors, even the metal shutters, were real. The artwork is so good in the film!

In those six-seven months in between, there was a cyclone (Amphan) that hit Kolkata. Everyone was worried ki ghar toot jayega. But that house survived the cyclone and the monsoon and we came back and shot in it.

Abhishek was asked to put on weight. So he ate at will. What about you?

I had already put on a bit of weight because I had a knee surgery and also Sujoy said I was to play a lower middle class woman, with two kids, working in a bank. Aisa nahin lagna chahiye that you are a city girl who goes to the gym. You can’t have that physicality.

Did you have the freedom to eat?

No, I did not. Abhishek must have spoken for half an hour about food. His lunch was two-three courses of sweets. He loved feeding everybody, even Sujoy, who would run away. He is quite a foodie. He knew from which shop, which gali what had to be brought. So one dish came from one shop and another had to be from another place. Then he would tell me the history of the shop — how old it is and who runs it. He could write a book on the places to eat in Kolkata.

Hope your knee has healed now?

I had an ACL ligament tear last year in September. I am much better now.

The character of Bob Biswas is full of contradictions. Is he sinister, is he vulnerable, how did a loser like him get a stunner of a wife…?

That’s why the film is interesting — to know how Bob Biswas became who he is, the backstory of a villain that makes him a hero. I got interested when I heard we are making a film on that particular character who had everybody hooked when they watched Kahaani. I was told it is a crime thriller and I am playing the wife of this contract killer who represents a world opposite to what he has lived in. She believes that her husband is the nicest and simplest person in the world and she is protective of him. She feels somebody might harm him. So it is the opposite of reality. He himself is in a predicament about whether he wants to be who he instinctively is or be the man his wife sees in him. She represents all that is good and wholesome that he wants in his life. He starts to like that, the way she looks at him.

Had you watched Kahaani when it released?

A little later. I did not watch it in the theatre.

What was your reaction to that eight-minute character?

It was very intriguing. At that point, I was bowled over by the film, the plot, Vidya (Balan), the story-telling, of course him as well. Par jab unhone bataya ki the entire film is going to be based on that character then it made you think “Yes, it is possible!” There was that madness about him. He (Saswata Chatterjee) played it beautifully, there’s no doubt. It really pulled you in. I would want to know what happens and why is he the way he is, what’s his world like. How do you humanise someone like that? That is what you see in this film now.

Is this before the Kahaani story or after?

I don’t think Sujoy as a writer wanted to specify when it happens. But you will get an idea when you watch the film. It is hinted at where it is lying timewise.

Is the story self-contained or do you see a Bob Biswas 2?

(Laughs) Sujoy should be the one to answer that. But why not? The world he has created is so exciting, I personally think we should.

You worked with local actors in Kolkata.

I forget the name of the elderly gentleman.

The one from whom Abhishek buys something in the trailer? Paran Bandyopadhyay.

He is sooooo good in the film! I only saw it after it was cut and mixed. His presence is just magical. I am a fan of what he has done. He will really stand out when people watch it.

You posted a video recently on Instagram of you doing something with dried flowers. What was that?

Oh, I was making a wreathe of dried pines and flowers. It’s like a good luck omen. It’s hanging right above my main door now.

You seem to be close to your dogs. How many do you have?

One died. We have two now. One is Bruno and the other is Buster. Buster is a Cane Corso, an Italian Mastiff. Bruno is a Golden Retriever, a therapy dog. Buster is forever looking for a fight and Bruno is the peacemaker. Bruno follows me around the whole day.

Seems as opposite as the two sides of Bob Biswas!

(Laughs out loud) Correct. Bilkul opposite. Chalk and cheese.

Last updated on 01.12.21, 08:19 AM
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