There is something tremendously gratifying about a nice round number. It feels like an accomplishment in a way that satisfies humanity's desire for order. So, when retired character actor Sudheer (Sanjai Mishra) discovers during a "where are they now?" type interview that he'd been featured in four hundred and ninety-nine films in a career that he'd considered long over, it's only natural that he'd want to eke over the finishing line to a nice round five hundred before truly calling it quits. Thus begins an actor's attempt to reenter a world he'd long since left behind, and his discovery that it's not the same as it was when he put away the greasepaint all those years ago.
Writer/director Hardik Mehta's debut feature, Kaamyab, is a heartwarming tale of an underdog trying to go out on top. It's not an easy journey, and it's nowhere near a sure thing, but it is a journey that Sudheer feels is worth taking, much to the chagrin of his grown children who had grown accustomed to his presence as dear old Dad.
In spite of his newness in the director's chair, Mehta is no rookie when it comes to Bollywood. He worked as script supervisor on the critically acclaimed Phantom Films features Lootera and Queen, and went on to co-write Vikramaditya Motwane's clever Castaway riff, Trapped a few years back. Kaamyaab marks his first time steering the ship, and all of the experience has paid off in a well crafted, emotionally rich story firmly anchored by a stupendous performance from Sanjai Mishra.
Mishra's Sudheer is from a different age in Bollywood, one that the current audience might hardly recognize. It was an age when a character actor would appear in dozens of films every year, as would the big stars. These "side heroes" might not get their names on the posters, but they were a welcome sight to film fans and often ended up playing essentially the same role in movie after movie. Kaamyaab is, in part, a tribute to those actors in the old days, performers like Bob Christo, Mac Mohan, Iftekhar and so many more. Mishra lovingly essays the role of one of these scenery-chewing legends to a tee, while at the same time displaying a tenderness and vulnerability to the fact that there really isn't much place for them in today's Bollywood.
Kaamyaab is as much about acceptance as it is about ambition. While Sudheer is chomping at the bit to get back in front of the camera, stumbling his way through auditions, call sheets, and working out the jitters of being back in action after decades away; he is at the same time forced to face the reality of his position. Bollywood isn't the same place it once was, many of his greatest allies are gone, replaced by a new generation of stars and an audience who have no idea who he is. He must face the reality of what his life has become, he must at some point reconcile the ambition to cross this perceived finish line against the world he and his family have built.
Is it really worth throwing away a comfortable life one has built for the family he loves in order to accomplish this goal? It's a tricky call for Sudheer, who has lost his lust for life after years of quiet retirement and being constantly nudged to repeat his one most famous dialogue by all and sundry. The fact that this goal has put a twinkle back in his eye is definitely not something to be ignored, but is it worth all it will take to achieve that goal? It's a an emotional roller-coaster for Sudheer and the audience as Mehta's script and Mishra's carefully measured performance bounces back and forth between ambition and acceptance before ultimately arriving at a very satisfying compromise.
Mehta may have a solid resume behind him, but he has an even brighter future ahead of him is he can continue to craft this kind of well observed and carefully attenuated stories that manage to charm and engage in equal measure. Kaamyaab is a loving tribute to a Bollywood lost as well as a beacon to the stars of yesteryear that there is still hope for contentment, even if it isn't in stardom.