Unlike Hollywood, within the Bollywood industry, it’s all about stars and their stardom. The posters are about them, the interviews are with them, and the power to choose their next film lies with them. A good film, or a really horrible one, they are the only ones remembered. In the yesteryears, what made the actor ‘stand out’, were the ones standing out, the extras, who as the name suggested, were needed, however not the most looked after. In Sholay, everyone remembers Gabbar Singh’s iconic dialogue, “Ab tera kya hoga Kaalia?”, but not many remember Kaalia, who created the world of Gabbar from the periphery.
Hardik Mehta’s feature debut Kaamyaab is an ode to these unsung heroes of the Hindi cinema, that have been around for years, but however, thanks to the social dynamics, among other things, have never made it above being side actors. Dedicated to the legendary Viju Khote (Kaalia), Kaamyaab explores the life of a character artist Sudheer (Sanjay Mishra), on the quest to be a part of 500 films, but more than that, on the quest of self-assurance that he is still relevant, even though all he ever was, was a sidekick.
Kaamyaab opens with a perished Sudheer, being a joke to a film crew. While trying to extract the star out of him, all the Tv anchor gets is an analogy as to how side actors are like aloo, as they fit into every dish. When that interviewer hands him an IMDB list, he realises that he’s a veteran who has been in 499 films. Known for his iconic dialogue, “Bas enjoying life, aur option kya hai?”, Sudheer is in search of a new identity. Right then, his friend proposes an idea, for him to complete a round figure, 500 films. To add onto his request, he backs it up with facts reassuring Sudheer how his position is empty as Om Puri is no more, Paresh Rawal is busy in politics, Naseeruddin Shah doing theatre and Anupam Kher, tweeting. Sudheer pulls out his wig from the cupboard, adorns a loud floral shirt and polished shoes, tightens his belt, and sets off for one last chance at glory, his 500th role in cinema.
Sudheer, who is navigating through the new rules and regulations of modern cinema, “audition” being one of them, has to rely on an actor turned casting director for his 500th role. When Sudheer asks Dinesh Gulati (Deepak Dobriyal) as to why he started a casting agency, he doesn’t acknowledge his failed acting career, but rather compares himself to the legendary cricketer Steve Bucknor, who gave up being a batsman to be an umpire, so that batsmen are treated fairly in the game. Ironically, the man playing the casting director, has also just made his name doing supporting roles and never been called a star, a casting genius from Mehta.
In one of the scenes, when Sanjay Mishra is auditioning for a role which could be for his 500th film, he, in all seriousness, tells Gulati about how stupid and difficult the writing of that scene is. Gulati, asking him to under play, complies to his query by telling him that the director calls it ‘realistic writing’ or something like that. A scene that will make you laugh, Mehta weaves in very smartly, the shift this industry has seen from loud, over the top and melodramatic acting, to realistic and under played performances.
Mishra gets his most awaited 500th role, but well, things don’t go as planned, as reality dawns upon him. In the modern era of cinema, Sudheer, is an age-old relic who is long forgotten. The only things people remember about him, are maybe his characters as any other henchmen, or lawyer, or a doctor delivering the news. It is very evident that he himself doesn’t remember who he is, which is highlighted in a lovely scene wherein on receiving a package at his door, it takes him a second or two to realise his real name Babulal Chandola, after which he removes his wig, and while doing so, it feels like he is switching between two characters, reel and real.
Hardik Mehta creates this world of melancholy and nostalgia, wherein most of the film revolves around this quest of significance. However, he never loses track of who his main lead is, a junior artist. He makes sure that even his dreams are one like those a junior artist would have. When angry, he gets drunk in the rain and screams at billboards, and when happy, dances in slow motion, throwback to the times this movie is set in.
The director not only celebrates the unsung heroes of this industry, but also makes them a part of his film, for once, with the identity they hone. From Avtar Gill, Manmauji to Guddi Maruti and, Lilliput, the director gives all of them a Stan Lee like cameo in a film that honours them. Deepak Dobriyal once again does what he does best, which is get into the role and deliver it with sheer elegance, a joy to watch on screen.
But the film is all about Sanjay Mishra, who is the heart and sole of the film. Sanjay Mishra upholds with integrity this character that he has lived through and brings it alive on screen the struggles he’s gone through in the most pitch perfect manner. He exhibits a wide spectrum of emotions, from pulling off a loud actor from the 80s mocking present day cinema, to someone questioning his relevance, Mishra showcases them effortlessly.
Hardik Mehta’s Kaamyaab creates a meta universe of telling a story about stories he grew up watching. It celebrates the contribution of the lesser known in the industry but also provides a realistic view of the film industry, which is not all glamour. A simple, yet important story of significance, made wearing a glass of modern, realistic filmmaking.