Kaamyaab, On Netflix: Cinema As Love Letter, Film Companion

Har Kisse ke Hisse’ – this phrase, roughly translating to ‘A Part of Every Story’, written in fine print before the title of Hardik Mehta’s Kaamyaab, essentially summarises the film’s central theme. It is the essence of the life of anyone who has ever been ‘also there’. For the primary and often larger-than-life presence to stand out in prominence, there needs to be a host of subdued existences all around it. In fact, a particular star in the sky, science apart, seems only to be shining brighter because the stars surrounding it are not shining as much. In cinema, the domination of the screen by the hero or the lead actor is premised upon the marginalisation of the character actor. Such artistes spend their careers being annexes to the central scheme of affairs. Kaamyaab is designed as a reflexive ode not only to the yesteryears of filmmaking, but also to the actors who have operated on the periphery and whose job has been to hold the spotlight for the lead actors. Director Hardik Mehta, whose documentary Amdavad Ma Famous brought him critical acclaim, makes a case for cinema as a love letter. Generation gaps, ringing in the new, the obsession with records, all phenomena intrinsically associated with cinema, have been touched and commented on in the film. Sudheer, played by Sanjay Mishra, is a former character actor and is the protagonist of this film. It is as if Mehta uses cinema to bring about a divine role reversal by making a character actor the protagonist. Sudheer wants to add a 500th film to his oeuvre but fails to deliver after years of hiatus.

Also read: Rahul Desai reviews Kaamyaab.

Sanjay Mishra himself has been a character actor like the one he portrays on screen. He made his presence felt in a string of mainstream films, before getting his deserved screen space in films like Aankhon Dekhi and Kadvi Hawa. The choice of Mishra in the role of Sudheer seems to be written in the stars, and it goes without saying that he does full justice to him. Mehta has created the crumbling world of an actor who commanded respect in the celluloid circles once upon a time, but is now reduced to another old timer failing to come to terms with modern styles of filmmaking. In a scene that fluidly depicts this inability, Sudheer is seen to exaggerate his actions even in a scene which demands a mellow disposition. It is like wielding an axe when a doctor’s scalpel would suffice, but that was how everything worked back in the day when the intervention of the screen meant scenes would be pegged several notches higher than reality. The ending scene is a tribute to hit B-movies where kitschy melodrama would mark both tragedy as well as triumph.

Films express more about the person conceptualising them than they do about the content itself. The film, available for streaming on Netflix, is peppered with film nostalgia and smacks of the director’s unabashed love and fascination for the screen trade. Mehta has treated the celluloid and screen artistry as his muse, and there are dialogues like “yeh reel ke artiste hain”, which speak about a time when everything was more complicated and challenging than technology has permitted today. Much of the film is about contrast – between the old and the new, the reel and the digital, the side actor and the lead actor – and it does not attempt to reconcile these polarities. On the contrary, it makes a case for respect and gratitude for a set of people who languish in lesser lights, occupy small spaces in posters and receive much smaller paycheques, but who possess equal if not greater ability than the people who run the show. This is not to suggest that this film has an antagonistic gaze on lead actors, but it bears the gaze of a side actor looking at a world where he has been dwarfed. As the self-referential icing on the cake, the film also features some prominent character actors of yesteryear Hindi cinema playing themselves, like Avtar Gill, Viju Khote and Birbal.

Sudheer with patches of thin white hair and Sudheer with a thick black wig are two different persons. Performer Sudheer comes back to everyman Sudheer in the evening, and drinks away his frailties. He is a conflicted and capricious individual. After years of isolation, he suddenly decides to jump into the pool of films with the help of Gulati, a successful casting director played by Deepak Dobriyal, and again, after years of neglect, he suddenly decides to be there for his family. All this can be attributed to the excitement and uncertainty raging through him at a time when he is unsure whether his attempt to renew his career will yield fruit or not. Applause and praise are what an artiste lives for. It is difficult for one to survive long without adulation. But life would not have it. The old has to make way for the new, and the old has to resign to their fate. The vicissitudes of entertainment will not allow someone to continue for long without adapting. So it is wise to accept change as the only constant, because aur option hi kya hai?

Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.

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