Think of the most iconic scene from any ’60s or ’70s Bollywood film. You will realise that there is a character actor involved in the scene who made it work. Unfortunately, in Bollywood, the supporting actor is typically appreciated in retrospect. And that is what Hardik Mehta talks about in his debut feature, Kaamyaab.
Starring Sanjay Mishra, Kaamyaab is the story of so many supporting, character actors who gave films from the ’60s and ’70s that extra feel of camp, of melodrama and flavour, who made each of their scenes stand out and who made the movie memorable.
Sudheer (Mishra), a once-famous character actor lives in obscurity in present-day Mumbai. He has a handful of friends and a strained relationship with his daughter, who resents him for putting his ambitions before his family. Upon learning that he has made 499 films in his career, Sudheer is presented with the idea of doing just one more film to be able to hit a rare milestone. The man, closing in on his 70s, dusts off his wig, his shockingly floral shirts and his stark white boots and sets off to make a comeback — only to find that his industry has moved on without him.
Mehta, who won a National Award for his documentary Amdavad Ma Famous, tells a bittersweet tale of a man choosing to take another shot at chasing his white whale in the city of dreams. The screenplay is everything you would expect it to be — understated, funny, sad and heartwarming.
It’s not perfect, though. Mehta crafts the film very carefully, so much so that the natural charm of the cast and the story is a little dimmed under the weight of the craft. He consciously stays away from the tropes that so many films exploring the haunting underbelly of Bollywood have gloried in. And yet, the second half manages to fall into some of those very holes.
Kaamyaab chooses the meta path by casting actual character actors Avtar Gill, Manmauji, Lilliput, the late Viju Khote and Ramesh Goel. It tries to glorify these actors — whose faces are more famous than their names — and give them their due by telling their forgotten stories through Sudheer. It also pokes fun at an industry that thrives on frivolity but takes itself extremely seriously.
Mishra, the late bloomer in a film industry obsessed with youth, makes for the perfect Sudheer. He brings an outsider’s perspective into depicting an incestuous industry. While his performance doesn’t seem as spectacular as in his other films, it is in quiet scenes, like when Sudheer takes off his wig and reveals a lost, old man, that Mishra truly shines. That nuance, that seeming effortlessness, you realise, could only have been brought to this role by him. Supporting actors Deepak Dobriyal and Isha Talwar play at par with Mishra, shouldering the story and taking it forward.
Kaamyaab is predictable, but it makes for a great watch. It captures your attention with a strong cast and deft writing. But, much like the old character actors, will you remember all of it the next day? I wouldn’t bet on it.