In Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani (2012), Bob Biswas, the assassin posing as an insurance agent, dies after being run over by a truck. In the Kahaani prequel named after the character, we learn that Bob Biswas not only had a rich past but a different face and body too.

Diya Annapurna Ghosh’s Bob Biswas, which is out on Zee5, replaces the original actor Saswata Chatterjee with Abhishek Bachchan. If Chatterjee brought menacing drollery to his handful of scenes, Bachchan’s performance is tinged with remorse and passivity.

Perhaps the inertia that washes over Bachchan and much of Bob Biswas has something do with the bodies that keep piling up across Kolkata. Or perhaps it’s because Bob has emerged out of a lengthy coma. His memory wiped clean, he is a blank slate onto which anything can be written. But only one word eventually is: “killer”.

There is the prospect of a new beginning, presented in the form of Bob’s knockout wife Mary (Chitrangda Singh), her daughter Mini (Samara Tijori) from a previous marriage, and their son Benny (Ronith Arora). But Bob’s old handlers want him to continue the good work, especially since a drug called Blue is rippling through the city’s youth.

It gets personal when Mini becomes addicted to Blue. And it gets a bit more complicated when a local police officer starts investigating some of the deaths. Although he can’t remember a thing, Bob finds himself frighteningly adept with a gun. He has something of an existential crisis too.

Sujoy Ghosh’s story and screenplay is far too low on psychological shading for Bob’s questions to be answered. The hired gun moves neatly from one revelation to the next to the tune of Vishal-Shekhar’s catchy Tu Toh Gaya Re, sung with needless gusto by Bianca Gomes. If the purpose of the sequel is to tell us who Bob Biswas really is, and how this affable gent evolves into a chilling creep, it remains a hole – the kind of thing Bob puts in the heads of his victims.

Tu Toh Gaya Re, Bob Biswas (2021).

Diya Ghosh ably steers the 131-minute movie past the serial kills and Bob’s occasional hand-wringing, but cannot prevent the inevitable sagging that accompanies Bob’s unsure shuffle. The lassitude embodied by Bob as well as the actor who plays him soon infects the movie, even in its later busier portions.

The performances rarely stray beyond competent. As Bob’s chirpy wife, Chitrangda Singh has little to add to his journey, such as it is. Samira Tijori, cast as the surly teenager Mini, has more screen time than her mother. There are a few forgettable villains and at least one sparky cameo (by Purab Kohli).

The most memorable member of the Kahaaniverse is once again a minor character, Kali (Paran Bandopadhyay), who runs a medical store. The twinkly-eyed elder, among the few who knows who Bob really is, is the film’s liveliest soul, begging the question: will Kali gets his spinoff movie too?

Bob Biswas (2021).