2.5 stars / 5 ( Above Average )

Director & Writer : Hardik Mehta

Cast : Sanjay Mishra, Deepak Dobriyal

Hindi ( English subtitles available ), 2020


I would like to lodge a kidnapping case here. Drishyam Films has been hijacked by Red Chillies Entertainment. The victim is ‘Kaamyaab’ which has been bent into becoming ‘Naakaamyaab’. The alleged perpetrator is a domineering, interfering producer who can’t quite seem to figure out what she / he wants, having a history of obsessively wanting to prettify films and ruin them. The ransom sought was a decent stack of moolah considering there are no stars here, but box office returns show a failed bid. Bystanders affected are principally you and me, given the promise of a honest story and instead served a treacle tart which has all the charm of a jamun without the gulab.

Sudheer ( unglamorous name Babulal Chandola ), portrayed by Sanjay Mishra, is a practically retired veteran of more films than he or we may care to remember. He is the “side-character” that you may not always recollect but one line he utters in a gangster sequence “ Bas enjoying life, aur option kya hai ?” becomes so famous that he is known for decades amongst most of the public for that dialogue. A lovely montage of sequences – a filmy mafia encounter, a rape sequence with all the corniness of one-day-old popcorn, sinister caretaker of “haveli”s of vintage Hindi pikchars, introduces us to Sudheer-ji. Dozing off in the twilight of his life, he suddenly snaps awake when a TV crew interviewing him informs him that IMDB lists him in no fewer than 499 film appearances. Electrified by this number from a resource new to him which he begins to call IMBD , he resurrects.

Sudheer-ji now itches to become like Sachin Tendulkar – the knees, wrists and brain don’t co-operate, but the heart still wants to score that 1000th hundred , 10,000th half-century. Thankfully money is not a problem, he having had the sense to invest his cash where others tumbled into bankruptcy and dingy cramped apartments. Sudheer sets out in search of the round figure that will complete his career. Never mind if that means that he cannot spend enough time with his grand-daughter and daughter, the latter particularly angry and frustrated with him for this negligence. Finding a sympathetic soul in the modern film world, he is gifted a fleeting but rather prestigious cameo. Can Sudheer be Kaamyaab in that juicy sequence in a multi-crore movie ? Or will he get stuck in a time warp, shouting his lines instead of caressing them, forgetting his dialogues in front of the waiting hundreds of film crew because he is not under the calming spell of whiskey which now anchors his sorry life ? I am not sure you should watch the movie to find out.

Pic’s co-producer Drishyam Films , which has given us the excellent uncompromised ‘Masaan’ and ‘Newton’, stumbles here with a confused product that packs little of the punch of previous stallions from their stable.

‘Kaamyaab’ is stuck between a rock ( full-blooded commercially geared cinema ) and a hard place ( cinema verité powered by stream upon stream of unadorned real life). There are two production houses – of different sensibilities – financing this story and the result is a mangled mish-mash – smoothly rendered but you can sense beneath the surface that things are not going whether they ought to. The background music is a failure, shoving sugar and warmth into almost all the scenes and lecturing our sentiments. Director-writer Hardik Mehta whose CV holds promise, having co-written the excellent ‘Trapped’ (2016) and script-supervised the wonderful ‘Lootera’ ( 2013 ), has not been given free rein to do what he wants, one increasingly suspects. That does not excuse the anaemic screenplay which simply does not have enough situations to provide sinew to this 1 hour 38 minute film. Mehta also falls prey to using broad strokes to portray pathos and poignancy where more delicate lines would have better served empathetic purpose. 

Pic maintains good quality up until the crucial scene, mid-way through the movie, shot on a “ film-set inside a film set” where Sudheer has the chance to put a shine on his 500th role. However the disappointment and frustration of that scene is captured only on the surface. It ends with too melodramatic and artless a close-up on the remains of the red-carpeted day. The ending of that sequence, at night inside a tent, is mercifully the best and most realistic part of the episode.  

That film-set also sports other niceties. The hunky muscular hero is never caricatured – on more than occasion, he avoids annoyance and shows reserves of patience before the cookie eventually crumbles. A payment imbroglio then mars the proceedings – and we think – if this is the way the film-makers act, then how exactly are they better than those they have issues with ?  

What kind of life of a life did Sudheer have at the start and middle of his career ? We don’t necessarily need all the details but even a ten-minute segment to sketch it in would have connected us better to this man. What actually is the story about his wife ( apart from a fleeting reminiscence ) ? What really do we see in his private life that should make us feel for this man ? None of these questions are satisfactorily depicted. He has become dependent on whiskey and in this respect too, he is so careless about his constant companion that he does not cache a supply of it en route to his great performance day, even though he knows at the back of his mind that this poison might become elixir at the crucial moment – this much we are left to glean. A persona which could have been a consummately delineated three-dimensional one, is reduced to a 2 D standard-issue character.

The finale is well-thought of, admittedly. This is an inspired sequence, and an excellent director might have hit this part out of the park. What we actually see however, is a merely good, possibly funny stretch that manages to provide a saving grace to a mostly forgettable film. 

The best actor award goes not to the featured hero but to character actor Deepak Dobriyal. Casting Director ka role ho tho aisa ! I have no illusions about rosily picturing this persona, but Dobriyal is superb in portraying a street-smart, efficient and well-mannered casting director, Gulati, who reserves special warmth and consideration for a yesteryear stalwart. Lines form outside his office but once he sees that Sudheer has returned for one final role, he gives him the VIP treatment and finagles for him a relatively plum role as the father of a king in a period film. Gulati even doubles as a gently guiding director to spoon-feed his selection – Dobriyal is slyly excellent in this sequence, conveying his directorial preference with patient gentleness and tact.

 Sanjay Mishra, sadly, is hamstrung by a main role that does not have enough meat for him to chew on. The sentimentalized script also robs him of the gristle that could have made this a meaner, grander part. Mishra, in other pictures, particularly excels when he is given a street-smart bite to his persona but his journey-man character here is a largely toothless, witless one. Watch him in a bit part in ‘Satya’, and two different yet equally excellent takes as a father in ‘Masaan’ and ‘Dum Lagaa Ke Haisha’ and you can then note where the real tadka ends there and the mostly hot air that reigns here. What an irony that in the biggest side-role of his career, he is again side-lined.

‘Kaamyaab’ could have been super-successful from a purely story-telling point of view, never mind the vagaries of the box office. Alas, suspected producer interference, tacked on top of the obvious flaws of a weak screenplay and uninspired direction, dilute the punch of this nostalgic concoction. If you’re searching for a consistently brilliant film about a second-tier industry insider, afsos yeh kaamyaabi aapko yahaan nahi milegi. Tip of the Day – Red Chillies have become too sweet.




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