Director: Atanu Ghosh
Cast: Abir Chatterjee, Raima Sen, Chiranjeet Chakraborty, Arunima Ghosh, Bratya Basu
Watch Abby Sen online in the UK: Netflix UK
Wondering how to fill the time travel gap now that Travelers and Timeless have been cancelled? Then transport yourself no further than Time Travel Thursdays, our column devoted to time travel movies on Netflix. It’s on Thursdays.
Written and directed by Atanu Ghosh, this Bollywood time travel tale is set in 2013 Kolkata and stars Abir Chatterjee as Abby Sen, a movie-obsessed TV producer who’s just been fired from his seventh job in a row. Too scared to tell his wife, Somy (Arunima Ghosh), Abby is instead persuaded to visit scientist Priyangshu Sharma (Chiranjeet Chakraborty), who has recently perfected a method of time travel that involves swallowing a capsule and going for a lie down.
Identifying a TV channel that advertised for new producers in 1980 but closed down shortly afterwards, Abby takes the tablet and travels back 33 years, hoping to improve his job prospects in simpler times. After meeting his future mother-in-law (Priyanka Sarkar as Srirupa), Abby comes to believe he has caused his wife to disappear in the present, Back to the Future-style, when he fails to prevent Srirupa from marrying the wrong person. However, he doesn’t seem all that upset about it, and instead grows closer to Srirupa’s best friend, Parama (Raima Sen).
The basic premise for Abby Sen is certainly intriguing. Abby is already convinced his life is like a movie, so you’re primed to expect a script that has fun with multiple film references. Instead, all you get is a name-drop of Back to the Future and a shot of him watching Alien in the cinema, without an accompanying gag.
Similarly, the time travel scenario is ripe with possibilities, whether it’s commenting on how times have changed since 1980, or Abby’s actions in the past having disastrous consequences in the present. Unfortunately, the script only makes token gestures in the direction of the former (you can barely tell it’s 1980 from the set design) and fails to follow through on the dramatic or emotional implications of his wife’s disappearance.
Furthermore, the script goes to great lengths to introduce multiple rules for Abby’s time travel (he’s given two pills and he has to take the second one in 48 hours or he’ll be stuck in 1980 for a year; he’s also given a communicator he can use to talk to the scientist in the present, but only between 6 and 6.30), yet fails to use them to generate anything resembling narrative tension or stakes. That’s consistent with the film overall – there’s a constant sense of nice ideas being brought up, and then completely abandoned. Even the central concept of time travel itself is used to minimal dramatic effect.
On the plus side, there’s a general sweetness to the whole thing, as well a couple of decent songs, which the script cleverly works into the story by positioning them as musical numbers that Abby is producing and Parama is singing. There’s also strong work from a colourful comic supporting cast that includes Bratya Basu as Abby’s exasperated 1980s boss, Biswanath Basu as Abby’s suspicious workplace rival and Kanchan Mullick as Bila, the excitable friend the scientist has somehow arranged for Abby to meet on his arrival. However, Arunima Ghosh is woefully under-used as Somy, which is a shame, as she’s amusing in her brief appearance, thanks to her propensity to smash stuff up whenever Abby disappoints her.
As for the leads, Raima Sen has off-the-scale screen presence as Parama and generates surprisingly strong chemistry with Chatterjee, which is just as well, because he’s a rather bland, passive presence whenever she’s not around, drifting through his own story without really engaging with it.
The film is further let down by Ghosh’s sluggish direction, which constantly slows to a crawl just when it should be picking up speed. This is particularly frustrating because Ghosh pulls off some inventive flourishes in the early stages – the reveal of the title credit is a lovely touch that the rest of the film fails to match.
In short, Abby Sen just about passes muster as a sweet but slight romantic drama and remains watchable thanks to its likeable comic cast, but it’s ultimately let down by a baffling refusal to engage with its time travel premise.
Abby Sen is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.