The film directed by Hardik Mehta stars Sanjay Mishra in the lead role
Last Updated: 06.07 PM, Jun 15, 2022
In Zoya Akhtar’s critically acclaimed 2009 film Luck By Chance, Farhan Akhtar and Konkana Sen Sharma play two struggling actors who dream of landing their big break in Bollywood. In the process, they face multiple rejections, experience the grim and cruel world of glamour, and fall into the trappings of stardom. The film which featured a host of actors playing themselves, including Shah Rukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Rani Mukerji, Kareena Kapoor Khan, and Ranbir Kapoor, performed poorly at the box office, although Akhtar received plaudits for her honest depiction of the industry. Likewise, another film about showbiz which failed to draw audiences to theatres, despite boasting superlative performances from the whole cast and a strong screenplay, is the 2018 film Kaamyaab directed by Hardik Mehta. Here, the focus shifts from the superstars to those who play minor or side characters in movies. These are artists who essay the role of the security guard who warns the protagonists of a haunted place, the police officer who arrives at the climax scene or the rich father of the bride. The movie is a tribute to all the character actors of the 70s and 80s who existed on the sidelines of the film industry.
Kaamyaab revolves around Sudheer, a retired side-actor, played brilliantly by Sanjay Mishra. The film opens with a TV host interviewing him about his decades-long film journey and the secret behind his iconic dialogue Bas enjoying life. Aur option kya hai? (Just enjoying life…You got a better option?) from the movie Lootero Ki Baarat. But an indifferent and dismissive Sudheer likens himself to an aloo (potato). “Those days potatoes were in great demand…Character actors like me were called potatoes back then. Potatoes complement everything…Whether it was comedy, thriller or romance…no matter who the lead actor was, potatoes like me could fit anywhere,” says Sudheer. The interviewer, who is surprised by his answer, takes out a long list of his movies and the characters he played, the first being the role of the man standing behind the dead body in a film called Heera Moti in Hong Kong in 1978. And suddenly, Sudheer realises he has appeared in 499 films, only one film short of achieving the milestone of 500.
Consequently, he sets out to do his 500th film. It should be a memorable role—one that could feature him in the Limca Book of Records and redefine his entire acting career. Sudheer brings about a transformation in his looks and attends auditions as he seeks to re-enter the film world. Whether he succeeds in his mission forms the crux of the film.
The film’s strength lies in the performance of the lead actor. Mishra, who himself started off as a character actor, is undeniably one of the best actors in Hindi cinema. He carries the film on his shoulders and effortlessly slips into the character of a has-been actor who lives alone in his Mumbai apartment in the company of alcohol, and who is extremely fond of his granddaughter. When Sudheer returns to a movie set, a lot has changed, and Mishra brings out the frustration and nervousness of the character with utmost subtly.
Deepak Dobriyal plays casting director Gulati to perfection. Gulati has great respect for Sudheer, but when the latter fumbles his lines and requires over 20 retakes for a single shot, he loses his calm. Dobriyal’s acting in these scenes is raw and real. Sarika Singh plays Bhavna, Sudheer’s daughter and Isha Talwar essays the role of Isha, a young woman who comes to Mumbai with dreams of becoming a movie star. The film taps on nostalgia by featuring several yesteryear character actors, including Avtar Gill, Viju Khote (he passed away a few months before the film’s theatrical release), Manmauji, Guddi Maruti, Anil Nagrath, Birbal and Lilliput, who play themselves.
Another strong aspect of the film is its screenplay by Radhika Anand and Mehta, who has penned the critically acclaimed film Trapped and the web series Paatal Lok. The humour is subtle yet unmissable. For instance, in one of the scenes, Sudheer’s friend encourages him to return to acting. His reason: Om Puri’s space is vacant, Paresh Rawal has joined politics, Naseeruddin Shah is focused on theatre, and Anupam Kher is too busy on Twitter. Light-hearted moments like these are spread across the narrative.
The screenplay also puts focus on the relationship Sudheer shares with his daughter. Through their conversations, we learn that Sudheer has been an absent father, who dedicated much of his life to his film career. Sudheer’s decision to return to acting causes a disagreement between the two, and he tries hard to make amends. At the same time, he shares a friendly bond with his neighbour Isha, and the scene where both of them can be seen humming the song Jab Koi Baat Bigad Jaye is heartwarming and emotional.
The film, which is produced by Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment and Drishyam Films, is a poignant portrayal of an artist who attempts to star in one last film, which culminates in a bittersweet end.