There’s a quiet sentimentality that pervades director Hardik Mehta’s work. His short film Chal Meri Luna is a loving tribute to the Kinetic Luna, a gearless moped that once ruled the streets of many cities in India. His National Award-winning documentary Amdavad Ma Famous (available on Netflix) follows an obsessive kite-flying 11-year-old boy named Zaid during Uttarayana, a famous festival in Gujarat, as he chases falling kites through streets and flies them with friends on terraces of buildings they aren’t supposed to enter. The Affair, his short film, is a charming tale of a couple trying to find a moment of intimacy in a city jostling for space. Mehta’s films tell us as much about their subjects as they do about the environments that shape them.
Now with his debut feature fiction Kaamyaab, Mehta turns his gaze towards some of the unsung heroes of Hindi cinema – the side actors. The film, that follows a character actor who comes out of retirement to look for the landmark 500th role, will have its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival.
Along with the announcement came a stunning poster, designed by Prashant Chaugule and SEEKRED, featuring lead Sanjay Mishra in several different looks. The plan to release the poster was the brainchild of Drishyam Films head Manish Mundra. “The idea was that we should sell the concept first because we don’t have a star. Our film is almost anti-star in a way,” Mehta says. It features the tagline ‘Har Kisse Ke Hisse’ because, as he puts it, “they have been a part of every story.”
Incidentally, the idea for the film originally came from film posters. “Growing up we used to see Harish Patel, Sadashiv Amrapurkar and Raza Murad, all of their names and faces on the posters. And then our cinema became so indulgent with stars and heroes’ faces, all of these faces suddenly went out of the poster.”
Mehta had earlier wanted to do a documentary on Viju Khote, one such famous side actor, most known for playing Kaalia – one of Gabbar’s henchmen in the classic, Sholay. “After 40 years also, people just randomly meet him and ask him, ‘Kitne aadme the?’ He’s like, “Are you mad? It’s been 40 years now!’”
He recounts an incident with another such actor, Birbal, who has been working since the black-and-white era. “When I went to meet him at his place, he was watching television and it was his film that was playing. Then he switched to another channel and said, ‘Isme bhi maine kaam kiya tha!’ (I’ve worked on this too). I kept wondering that whatever channel he flips through will probably have his film playing because he’s been a part of so many films!”
Kaamyaab will have something inherently Bollywood because “no one does stereotyping like Hindi cinema does.” Mehta says his film is a heartfelt ode to these actors who were always reduced to playing the police, the doctor, the dacoit, the judge or passing roles such as the people who deliver good or bad news. At an earlier stage, he had intended to do a short film on the subject. But it was fellow filmmaker Devashish Makhija, whose film Bhonsle will also screen at the festival, who read the script and suggested the material lent itself better to the feature format. “It’s amazing to know that Bhonsle is also going to Busan. In my film’s Thank You credits, the first name is that of Devashish Makhija.”
Mehta admits that he’s nervous about how the film, that has a commercial touch, will be received by the audience in a country with different sensibilities. “Generally Indian films at Busan have been great with their art and aesthetics and pacing. Our film is a little different from this.”
Kaamyaab will screen under the A Window On Asian Cinema section at the festival that runs from October 4-13.