When Sanjay Mishra breaks away from his comedic performances and throws himself into a meaty and meaningful role, he delivers a lot. In Hardik Mehta’s lively Kaamyaab, which is a bit rough around the edges but bathed in a warm glow, the versatile actor steps up his game several notches and delivers pure brilliance.
Mehta is best known for the documentary Amdavad Ma Famous. He won the National Award for best non-film in 2015. His first narrative feature film is not in the same league. But it’s anything but a failure. He successfully combines sustained empathy with a dash of humor to tell the bittersweet story of a retired screen actor who, after many years out of the picture, attempts a comeback.
The success of Kaamyaab lies in its lightheartedness. As the film opens, 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 doesn’t have many friends, either personal or professional. So his return to the fold of industry is no bed of roses.
So says casting director Dinesh Gulati (Deepak Dobriyal) when he sees the aging actor’s awkwardness while auditioning for a role, “Purane chawal se risotto banana mushkil hoga (it will be difficult to make risotto with old rice).” The world has moved on since Sudheer left the industry. The comeback has been a steep one, marked by embarrassing missteps and emotional lows.
The lightness of the central portrait may seem a bit off in places, but as the film progresses it becomes clear that the superficial disparity is part of a deliberate design. It reflects the state of the hero’s life and career. He revels in the past while the present passes him by.
Kaamyaab shows the other side of the city of dreams, as well as the pockmarks that dot the shiny face of the hyperactive Hindi film industry. He does so in an engaging way that celebrates the unsung “supporting actors” of Hindi cinema, whose careers, sadly, consist more of sheer numbers than genuine creative highlights. They enjoy longevity under the arc lights, but little scope in terms of real fame and popularity.
In a scene set in a bar, Sudheer is seen drinking with a group of fellow actors – Viju Khote (to whom Kaamyaab is dedicated; he passed away last September), Birbal, Manmauji, Lilliput, Ramesh Goyal, and Anil Nagrath, all playing themselves, while a still-busy Avtar Gill (also as himself) sits at another table, looking disdainfully at these unemployed actors lamenting their missed opportunities and wondering why “the doors were slammed in their faces.
This fascinating metafictional moment in the film will set off a guessing game among Hindi film buffs to assign names to the now aging faces, not the other way around. This is the irony of the careers of many of these veteran screen actors: their faces are infinitely more famous than their names.
“Maal Madh Island pahunch gaya hai (the cargo has arrived on Madh Island),” proclaims a smuggler villain in a scene from the movie-within-a-movie. When Kaamyaab is released amid blatantly vulgar and artificially hyped hype, one knows immediately what era of popular Hindi cinema we are in. Many years later, Sudheer, the adopted name of Babulal Chandola, has slipped into the abyss of anonymity.