Cast: Sanjay Mishra, Deepak Dobriyal, Sarika Singh, Avtar Gill, Isha Talwar, Devas Dixit, Kaurwakee Vasistha
Director: Hardik Mehta
Rating: 3 stars (Out of 5)
When Sanjay Mishra breaks free from his comedic gigs and has a go at a meaty, meaningful role, he makes its count. In Hardik Mehta's lively Kaamyaab, which is a touch rough around the edges but bathed in a consistently warm glow, the versatile actor raises his game several notches and delivers sheer brilliance.
Mehta is known for the documentary Amdavad Ma Famous. It won the National Award for the Best Non-Feature Film in 2015. His maiden narrative feature isn't in the same league. But it is anything but a write-off. It successfully blends sustained empathy with a dash of humour to tell a bittersweet story of a retired screen actor attempting a comeback after being out of circulation for many years.
The success of Kaamyaab stems from its lightness of touch. When the film begins, the protagonist, Sudheer (Mishra), is a lonely and forgotten man. His wife is dead and gone. His daughter Bhavna (Sarika Singh) lives elsewhere in the city with her husband and daughter. He does not have many friends, personal or professional. His return to the industry fold isn't therefore a cakewalk.
As casting director Dinesh Gulati (Deepak Dobriyal) puts it presciently on seeing the ageing actor's awkwardness as he auditions for a part, "Purane chawal se risotto banana mushkil hoga (it will be tough making risotto out of stale rice). The world has moved on since Sudheer bid the industry goodbye. Clawing back is an uphill climb marred by embarrassing missteps and emotional troughs.
The breeziness of the pivotal portrayal might feel a bit out of place in parts, but it becomes amply clear as the film progresses that the surface unevenness is part of a conscious design. It reflects the state of the hero's life and career. He basks in the past as the present passes him by.
Kaamyaab reveals the flip side of the city of dreams, as well as the pockmarks that riddle the bright visage of the hyperactive Hindi movie industry. It does so in an engaging manner that celebrates Hindi cinema's unsung 'side actors' whose careers are unfortunately more about mere numbers than genuine creative highs. They enjoy longevity under the arc lights but little leeway in terms of authentic fame and popularity.
In one scene set in a bar, Sudheer is seen drinking with a bunch of fellow actors - Viju Khote (to whom Kaamyaab is dedicated; he passed away in September last year), Birbal, Manmauji, Lilliput, Ramesh Goyal and Anil Nagrath, all playing themselves - while a still-busy Avtar Gill (also as himself) sits at another table and looks on disdainfully at these out-of-work actors ruing their lost opportunities and wondering why the doors have been slammed on their 'faces'.
This highly intriguing meta-fictional moment in the film is bound to spark a guessing game among Hindi movie geeks over putting names to the now-wizened faces, rather than the other way around. That has been the irony of the careers of many of these veteran screen performers - their faces are infinitely more famous than their names.
"Maal Madh Island pahunch gaya hai (the consignment has reached Madh Island)," a smuggler-villain announces in a film-within-the-film scene. You instantly know which era of popular Hindi cinema we are in when Kaamyaab opens amid unabashedly lowbrow, artificially pumped-up brouhaha. Many years later, Sudheer, the assumed name of Babulal Chandola, has slipped through the cracks and into the abyss of anonymity.
This is the point in Sudheer's life from where Kaamyaab follows him as he attempts to achieve a milestone that, unbeknownst to him, he was within striking distance of when he decided to call it a day. He nurtures no hope of returning to the big screen for good - this despite the fact that stray fans keep popping up around him to remind him that some of the work that he did has not been completely forgotten although his name might only be a faint memory - but he decides that one last shot at glory might be worth the effort.
A series of schlocky film clips precedes the first 'real life' appearance of the yesteryears character actor who occupies centerstage in Kaamyaab. A television interviewer sits in front of him and tries to tease an exciting life story out of him. Sudheer, lonesome, listless and painfully laconic, is in no mood to oblige.
Ironically, the girl with the mic asks the veteran for a sandesh (message) for actors aspiring to make it big in the Mumbai movie industry. He replies: "Bahut roshni hai yahaan (there is a great deal of razzle-dazzle here)..." On cue, the power line trips, the room plunges into darkness, and the interview is cut short. The screenplay could not have come up with a better metaphor for Sudheer's life. At the peak of his career, he was never idle - as the footage in the cheerful prelude establishes - but true roshni never shone on him.
The aborted interview plants a desire in his mind. The interviewer, armed with an IMDB list of the films that Sudheer has totted up playing doctors, lawyers, policemen and gangsters, points out to him that he has been in 499 films. One more would help him touch the 500-mark and put him in the league of "Pran, Lalita Pawar and Shakti Kapoor" and in the record books a la Manmauji, who played a bald man in 300 movies in a row.
Kaamyaab, jointly produced by SRK's Red Chillies Entertainment and Manish Mundra's Drishyam Films (which also bankrolled previous Sanjay Mishra starrers such as Ankhon Dekhi, Masaan and Kadvi Hawa), blends poignance with wackiness, to craft an effective character study of a man who has seen better days that were never as good as he would have wanted them to be.
Sudheer has had a long innings and people do remember a few of his scenes and dialogues. But the decades he spent in the industry has now been distilled into a single line: "Enjoying life, aur option hi kya hai". Moments later, the screen character who spouts that non-sequitur is shot dead.
As he seeks his 500th film role, Sudheer approaches Gulati for help. The actor-turned-casting director helps him steal a key role in a historical epic from under Avtar Gill's nose. But the industry has changed beyond recognition and Sudheer, nervous and over-zealous, makes a hash of his comeback shot.
Kaamyaab probes the meaning of success and popularity in an industry where only a lucky few hit the big time and the rest have to make do with crumbs despite, like Sudheer, working day in and day out. In a special appearance, Isha Talwar plays an aspiring actress from Roorkee who figures out before it is too late that success isn't easy to come by in this cutthroat world. "Bahut hi bekaar shahar hai," she says of Mumbai. "Rejection ki aadat dalwa deta hai."
Kaamyaab captures the agony of failure and unrealized potential with a lot of heart and flair. It joyfully employs the methods of the unabashedly trashy Mumbai movies of the final decades of the 20th century by way of a tribute to all those barely known actors who lent support, in hundreds of potboilers, to the superstars, top comedians and lead villains on the big screen - and then disappeared into Hindi cinema's trivia trove.
Sanjay Mishra's outstanding performance is complemented admirably by Deepak Dobriyal, Avtar Gill and Sarika Singh. The screenplay is insightful, if not blindingly revelatory. And some of the directorial sleights are commendably in tune with the demands of the material, making Kaamyaab a film that deserves all the Kaamyaab in the world.