It’s a strange thing, the self-pity of an artist. Unlike sportspersons, who have the luxury of a scoreboard to help assess their performance, writers, filmmakers and most of all, actors, spend a lot of time marinating in their own pity while chasing *that* sentiment. What’s worse, is the sheer subjectivity of the art. An actor might have toiled for a scene that gets lost in the bigger scheme of things, but a throwaway moment might capture the imagination of the masses. Hardik Mehta’s Kaamyaab is a charming ode to the Hindi cinema’s ‘I-know-their-face-but-I-don’t-know-his-name’ actors. The song Tim tim tim, sung by Bappi Lahiri (perhaps the most high-profile example of a once-upon-a-time star) even has the line yaar dekha hai… dekha hai, isko kahi toh in it. However, on a spectrum between Om Shanti Om and Luck By Chance, Kaamyaab leans towards the former. It abandons sharp, unsparing insights in favour of gags and sentimentality.
Much like the has-been protagonist, Sudheer (Sanjay Mishra), even his apartment seems to be stuck in the past. A stereo system that plays Mehdi Hasan, a tobacco pipe, and a glass with leftover liquor from last night whose swigs probably enabled Sudheer to relive his glory days. Being told that he has starred in an estimated 499 films (according to IMDB), Sudheer gets his much-needed impetus to go back to the thing he loves. The swagger of a ‘has-been’, a wig, leather boots accompanied with tacky floral-printed shirts, Sanjay Mishra seems fully aware of the role’s limitless possibilities. But his enthusiasm is never reciprocated by the film.
For a film about the forgotten, Kaamyaab does deliver a few memorable moments. Like a scene featuring some of Hindi cinema’s most recognisable faces, like (the late) Viju Khote, Lilliput, Birbal, Manmauji sitting across each other with a drink in their hands, along with Sudheer. We hear them talk about the troubles of not being paid for their most famous role and gossip about why Avtar Gill still gets work. Gill (playing himself) stars in a spirited cameo, where he hustles his way through bit-roles and Ayurveda commercials, cutting too close to the bone in Gill’s own real life. Like it happens in these films, fact and fiction dissolve in Kaamyaab too.
One of the film’s biggest weaknesses though, is how consumed it becomes with its own subject’s misery. How it treats the protagonist’s humiliation and his failure with pity. For an actor, who has appeared in 499 films, the way Sudheer reacts to a bad day at work… feels uncomfortably tropey. Sudheer pours himself a drink at bar, it starts to rain, and then he goes on to vent his frustrations in front of a giant hoarding. It all seems borrowed from one of Sudheer’s own lesser films. Having been a part of an industry for over a few decades, is there some wisdom or cynicism with which he looks at everything? The track about Sudheer being negligent towards his daughter, Bhavna (Sarika Singh), feels underexplored. And in the film’s climax where Sudheer unwittingly ends up on the stage, feels contrived.
With a premise as cool as this, Kaamyaab should have been more astute in its observations about someone who was once almost on the cusp of fame. Do the boundaries between their ‘craft’ and ‘fame’ begin to blur after they’ve been doing this for decades on an end? Can they differentiate between being recognised and being appreciated for their work? How do these stuck-in-the-past actors navigate with the current environment of a Hindi film set? Kaamyaab doesn’t prod beyond the obvious. In spite of having the noblest of intentions (much like last week’s Thappad), Hardik Mehta’s film never quite goes on to become the monument for Hindi cinema’s forgotten actors.