Director: Hardik Mehta
Cast: Sanjay Mishra, Deepak Dobriyal, Sarika Singh, Isha Talwar
Kaamyaab asks us to do something that we don't usually do – shift focus from the hero to the actor in the periphery of the frame. The bit player who has a few lines – like the henchman who runs in to say something to the villain, the doctor who delivers the bad news that the lead has only six months to live, the lawyer who loses in court. Basically the men and women you see in countless movies but whose names you don't know because they aren't stars. They aren't even character actors. They occupy that nebulous recognizable-yet-anonymous slot of celebrity.
Sudheer, played by a wonderfully frayed, fumbling, tragi-comic Sanjay Mishra, is that man. Sudheer's first film was Heera Moti in Hong Kong in which he played the man standing behind the dead body. The highlight of his career was playing the henchman Shera whose signature line – Bas, enjoying life aur option kya hai? – became a big hit. Over the decades, Sudheer has done 499 films. He's now a retired recluse whose biggest joy is his alcohol and his granddaughter. After a botched television interview, in which he sourly declares, 'character actors ko aloo kaha jata tha' and 'darshakon ke dilo mein sirf hero baste hain,' Sudheer decides that he must do a 500th film and complete his oeuvre.
Writer-director Hardik Mehta, who co-wrote the dialogues with Radhika Anand, tells Sudheer's story with empathy and affection. He keeps the humour intact with amusing recreations of film scenes from the 70s and 80s. He brings together many of the actors who actually lived this life – Avtar Gill, who plays a version of himself, Lilliput, Birbal, Guddi Maruti and Viju Khote who is best remembered for playing the iconic Kaalia in Sholay in 1975. You remember Gabbar Singh's killer line – ab tera kya hoga Kaalia? Khote passed away last year and Kaamyaab is dedicated to him. Incidentally, he has 443 credits on IMDB as an actor.
Hardik is a keen observer of the film industry and he gets the details right – Sudheer's white boots and wig, the harrowed production head on the shoot, the slightly oily but charming casting director Dinesh Gulati. Deepak Dobriyal is terrific as Gulati who, as gatekeeper to Bollywood, enjoys his own unique stardom. The motto of his company is 'no couch, only casting.' At Gulati's office, overrun by aspiring actors, beverages are served in mugs that have Gulati's quotes on them. At one point, he tells Sudheer to drink juice because glow utar rahi hai. The textures of the film are real but not gritty. Hardik gives us an unvarnished view of what life is like for artists in the lower echelons. Each day is a struggle to retain your optimism and your dignity.
The film has heart but it doesn't deliver the emotional heft or depth that a showbiz film like Luck By Chance did because the writing isn't sharp enough. Hardik relies too heavily on Sudheer and Gulati – the other characters, including Sudheer's daughter, his close friend and his neighbour, have little flesh on them. The star in the film, appropriately muscular and entitled, is especially bland. I understand that this is a film about the sidekick but surely the hero could have a smidgen of personality.
Sanjay Mishra, with his droll expression and unsentimental manner, doesn't let Kaamyaaab slip into melodrama but the climax, set in Sudheer's granddaughter's school, feels too staged. Kaamyaab throbs with a nostalgia for old-school Bollywood films, which despite being horribly cheesy, had a certain innocence. The film celebrates the sheer awfulness of these films. But it doesn't acknowledge that the industry is more fluid now. The prime exhibit being Nawazuddin Siddiqui whose blazing talent has propelled him from a side actor to a hero. The songs by Rachita Arora don't add much either.
But Kaamyaab does serve as a lightweight and necessary ode to the hundreds of actors who we know and yet don't know. Which makes it worth watching. You might also want to check out Hardik's National Award-winning documentary Amdavad Ma Famous, about the kite flying festival in Ahmedabad. It's terrific.