A Tale of Two Topshes

The idea basically germinated after reading Virag Mishra’s post on Brijender Kala. We always write posts on films, the lead actors, their directors. But there are many strokes of colour on the canvas which complete the painting. Actors who have a screen presence of not even 1/10th of that of the protagonist but are indispensable to the film.

The best example is perhaps actor Judy Dench who holds the record for winning for winning an Oscar ( best actor in a supporting role – female ) for a record 8 minute role in the film Shakespeare in love (1998). Salim-Javed were famous for creating such characters. They would have just one line in the entire film (Sambha in Sholay) or be part of just a gag ( Bob Christo’s character in Mr. India), but they would be remembered and talked about till date.

The recently released film Kahaani definitely had one such character. He might have had a total of just 5 lines in the film – 3 out of which would have been the signature “Nomoshkar – Ek Minute”. Yes you got it right – the LIC agent Bob Biswas.

No matter what the audience took out along with it from the film – the twist at the end, Vidya’s performance, the contrasting characteristics of Kolkata the city; all had one thing in common to praise about – the character of Bob Biswas. Within minutes the social networking sites got flooded with mentions of this new found villain in Bollywood. Comparisons were drawn with Gabbar Singh and Mogambo. Suddenly Rajnikant jokes found a new competitor. “Nomoshkar – Ek Minute” had beome a rage.

The facebook page of Bob Biswas is perhaps the best example in brevity when it comes to describing the person.”There’s no psychopathic laughter. No twitching. No punch dialogue. He is the friendly neighbourhood hired assassin. He is Bob Biswas.”

But this ‘Friendly Neighbourhood Assasin’ was as much the actor’s creation as the writers’. As the director Sujoy Ghosh puts it “I told him just one thing. I want your character to look like a Bineeta Baangali ( good natured Bengali middle class person ). After that everything from the dress to the gait to the smile was his creation.” He further adds, “He is a commoner whose face will get lost in the crowd. Thats why I always show him emerging from the crowd”.
And what a commoner he is. One who insures life in the day and takes them at night !

The actor behind this maverick character is veteran Bengali actor Saswata Chatterjee .Saswata has been in Bengali cinema for quite sometime doing character roles. Over the years the actor has put on both age and weight, lost hair, won recognition, but what has definitely stayed on is that ‘Bineeta Baangali’ facial characteristic. The same characteristic that got him his first role ever in Sandip Ray’s adaptation of his father’s immortal sleuth series, Feluda, as Topshe – the detective’s materanl nephew. The film was Baksha Rahasya .

Years later Sandip Ray re-visited Feluda. Though the choice of the protagonist remained the same (Sabhyasachi Chakraborty), he needed a younger face for Topshe this time. Enter Parambrata Chatterjee – our very own Satyuki or ‘Rana’. Incidentally Topshe was his debut role as well.

Now Parambrata has been around for a quite some time now. In a short span of time he has worked with the biggest names in the industry – Rituparno Ghosh and Anjan Dutt to name a few. Though 30 plus in age he still has those boyish charms intact and an obvious choice for the kind of roles people have for Sharman Joshi over here – sweet and vulnerable boy next door who can also show amazing layers of maturity in acting when required.

Talking about the character of Satyuki what Sujoy Ghosh wanted to show was that even a boy can fall in love with an elder woman even though she is pregnant. ” That s why I made her fix the computer at the police station so that she can become a hero in his eyes”, says Sujoy.

It really becomes a problem for the makers when they set the story in a non-hindi speaking city. It is difficult to decide where to draw the line when it comes to choice of language in dialogues. Instead of speaking in native and using subtitles the actors just tweak the Hindi a little bit. But it still sounds more authentic in Kahaani as compared to some other Bolly films set in Bengal (Devdas, Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se). That was primarily because Bengali Actors were cast and they spoke Hindi as they actually do in real life with no reverence for ‘ka’ and ‘ki’ while speaking.

And since Parmabrata had the maximum spoken part after Vidya in the film, I would say he did a commendable job. Because sometimes this device can backfire by making the scenes unintentionally funny at places where they are not required. There was an earnestness in his face which showed that he actually cared for this lady. Especially the part where he can’t help looking at her endearingly or reminisce about her while returning back home in bus at nights. There was also a sense of honesty and grit which any new entrant in Police Department has before those values get dilluted by harsh realities of the system. You don’t feel that you are missing a ‘Hero’ in the film when Parmabrata is around.

Kudos to the makers for being brave enough and casting local actors for the roles instead of known faces from Bollywood who would have pretended to be Bengali and stereotyped their characters. Kudos to these actors as well for pulling it off brilliantly. I hope it encourages other film makers to take a similar call when required.

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15 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Topshes

  1. loved d piece! definitely agree with the thought too! saw kahaani thrice already, and while obviously the suspense is out for me , i am still loving watching the film over and over again! minute details, small quirks, characterizations are immense in the film….

    Rana sits in the tram going home late at night, and his mom always calls, he wud pick up and say Maa aaschi! then one such day, he cuts her call. Such depth this act brings to his character- he has a mom, perhaps no dad, hence the over care for her son returning late form work- he is a cop, may be she is worried for his wellbeing- he always takes her call, his love and concern for her make him to reassure her he is fine- such a rich background for characters is not often seen in mainstream hindi cinema these days!

    loved the film immensely!

  2. Abhishek very well written and I’m not surprised that Sujoy himself has liked the post. Similar to Ameet ( geeamekarvis ) even I’ve been thinking so much about these 2 characters ( especially Rana ) and trying to think of how their lives would be otherwise. That in a nut shell is the victory of the writer and/or director.

  3. Another great article! I have stopped taking Rajeev Masand and other commercialized idiotic critics into consideration. Reviews and articles here are much better.

  4. hey Abhishek.. i m going to make an exception to my own dictum of anti-regionalism, and write a comment in bengali… i know sethu sir & ameet can understand the language, for others, please don’t get offended..

    sotti khub bhalo likhecho.. kolkata e thaka kalin saswata r parambrata dujoneri acting onek dekhechi – param ke amar hoyto sob somoy bhalo lageni (exception being 22e srabon, bong connection & nishijapon) karon o ek type er frustu- titibirokto “bhalo lage na jaaye toh” waala role i koreche beshi, jeta amar beshir bhag somoy poshay ni.. (one small correction: Param’s debut role chhilo Hemanter Pakhi te, Bombaiyer Bombete noy)… opordike, Saswata ke amar beshir bhag somoy bhalo legeche, karon beshir bhag somoy he played this likeable bangali babu (only exception i can remember is Bong Connection).. though i have a lack of respect for sandip ray’s feluda films, tai sei cinemagulor kotha ar tullam na.. talking about saswata, i will have to say je saswata jotoi bhalo lagar role kore thakuk, amar nojore konodin-i or baba-r charm ke chhute parlo na… subhendu was surely one of the most underrated actors of bengali film industry, who despite having a huge filmography, lost out the stardom to the biggest stalwarts of bengali films who happened to be his contemporaries – uttam kumar n soumitra…

    however, keeping past aside and looking at kahaani independent of their previous body of work, param and saswata dujonei osadharaon koreche kahaani te.. though bob is an unusual character, it also risks looking gimmicky or caricaturish – something that happened to Sanjay Dutt in Agneepath.. but saswata managed it commendably.. at the same time, an actor can risk looking sissy doing a Rana role – but he covers all the ‘non-heroism’ with mature innocence, that a viewer can feel himself sitting in the tram and reminiscing a beautiful woman he is infatuated with it… accha, tomar blog er theke amar comment lomba howar aage, i will stop and say again, ‘khub bhalo likhechho’.. :-))

  5. Dude..you have written a wonderful piece on Kahaani. The style if writing is as lucid as it can be. You actually hit the bulls eye. One of the good qualities of a good movie is to have good characters. They are like a thread who bind the script. The script writers did an awesome job in sketching good characters..the unassuming contract Bob Biswas, Monalisa’s Manager and added to it ‘Kolkata’ which is as much a character as anybody. Ma Durga’s symbolism with the Mother in question in Kahaani was very apt. That the movie dint need a hero, so to say, speaks a lot about the script..

  6. Thanks Sudipta. I am happy that this post is encouraging people to write down their thoughts on the little things they appreciated in the film. There has been a lot of irrelevant discussions on the loopholes in the plot and unnecessary comparisons with ‘Taking Lives’ without even watching that film.
    There is always more to a movie than what meets the eye. Time to delve into those details my friends.
    Cheers!

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