‘On the margins of success’: Hardik Mehta on his showbiz tribute Kaamyaab
Director Hardik Mehta and producer Manish Mundra on paying homage to the ‘side actors’ of Bollywood
The shipment has reached Madh Island. The henchmen are guarding the dock. There’s a Patrick among them, and a Shera. Is there a better tribute to Hindi film nostalgia than a hat-tip to its villains and sidekicks? Hardik Mehta’s Kaamyaab, releasing on March 6, pays homage to the Bollywood of the 1980s and ‘90s. Set in present times, the film stars Sanjay Mishra as Sudheer, a has-been ‘side-actor’ angling for his 500th feature film. He enlists the help of a casting director (Deepak Dobriyal) to land his greatest role. It doesn’t turn out that easy, as Sudheer struggles with changing times and a strained relationship with his daughter.
The film is partly inspired by the life of yesteryear actor Sudhir (Bhagwandas Mulchand Luthria). Hardik, who makes his feature debut with Kaamyaab, also referenced classic movies from that era. “I grew up watching television reruns of Amar Akbar Anthony, Golmaal and Chupke Chupke,” he shares, “In many of those movies, apart from the Amitabh Bachchans of the world, there would be a list of supporting characters. They all had typical attributes: Keshto Mukherjee was always drunk; the foreign smuggler was always Bob Christo; the inspector was always Iftekhar sa’ab.” The idea of Kaamyaab, he adds, stemmed from a curiosity of knowing more about these actors. “I wanted to find out where they live...What do they do at home? What are their families like?”
Hardik grew up in Vadodara, Gujarat. After graduating from Jamia Millia Islamia, he worked with filmmakers like Dev Benegal, Vikas Bahl and Vikramaditya Motwane. Hardik’s short documentary, Amdavad Ma Famous (2015), won the National Film Award for Best Non-Feature Film. In 2016, he co-wrote Trapped, while also researching for his first feature project. That took him to the homes of veteran character actors like Viju Khote, Ramesh Goyal, Satendra Khosla (Birbal) and Avtar Gill. “They shared a lot of anecdotes about their lives,” Hardik says, “One actor, I remember, broke down while speaking about his career. He said he was stranded on the margins of kamyaabi (success). That really stuck with me. It made me ponder the true definition of success.”
Hardik blended this pathos with comic nuggets about the tinsel world. Avtar Gill, Guddi Maruti and the late Viju Khote play themselves in Kaamyaab, and there are in-jokes about the gangster and daaku films of the ’80s. “In old movies, just when the villains are celebrating, someone will say, ‘Boss, maal pakda gaya (the goods are seized)!’ It’s also funny how Elphinstone College in Mumbai is always shown to be the High Court. These clichés are woven into the grammar of Hindi cinema.”
Produced by Drishyam Films, Kaamyaab was completed in 2018. The film had its world premiere at the 23rd Busan International Film Festival. It was also shown at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne and the Shanghai International Film Festival. While Hardik moved on to direct his second feature, the upcoming horror-comedy Roohi Afzana, no announcement was made about Kamyaab’s release. Then, in January this year, Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment came on board to bring the film to theatres.
“We had a different partner earlier who were supposed to release Kaamyaab,” shares Drishyam founder Manish Mundra. “But they couldn’t do it due to their own financial issues. As an independent production house, our philosophy is to give each film its due. Just like Newton (2017) got its due when Aanand L. Rai came on board, Kamyaab is releasing in the best way possible with Red Chillies stepping in.”
The film also marks an interesting full-circle for Drishyam. Their debut production, Ankhon Dekhi (2014), had starred Sanjay Mishra in the lead. The actor had later fronted their climate-change drama Kadvi Hawa (2017). “Some relationships are directed by the superenergy,” Manish says, “At Drishyam, we often come across a script and feel Sanjay sir hovering around it. Besides these titles, he’s also done smaller roles in Masaan and Newton. No matter the size of the role, he has always been gracious enough to do it.” Well, that sums up Kaamyaab, and the actor shouldering it.