It is an exceptionally windy night. Monsoon has shown its face and the raindrops are dramatically falling over everywhere. Sitting in a car, Sanjay Mishra’s elderly character is leaning over his window. There are all blues and blacks outside and you see this actor as a sort of maniacal joker in his own narrative. There’s this uncanny visual similarity with The Dark Knight and a feeling that you just can’t dust off. A person that has been ridiculed with an absolute apathy by society – a misunderstood freak struggling to understand the purpose of all the years he has spent on the earth – that’s the common thread. Being Kaamyaab (Successful) has always been a wish of this protagonist from ‘Kaamyaab’. The film, which was a part of last year’s MAMI film festival, finally gets a wide theatrical release in India.

Sanjay Mishra plays Sudheer, the protagonist of this film. Mishra, who has vast experience as a character-actor in real life plays this character that falls on the same lines. Only that Sudheer is long past his glory where even his contemporaries do not respect him. A case like last year’s Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in America”, Sudheer belongs to an era that has already ended. The style of acting he was used to performing is reduced to a much more nuanced non-acting. It is not about the exaggerated antiques and one-liners worth of applauds, which he cannot easily accept. In between that transition, he loses much of his past glory and now he is considered to be just another ordinary actor. With the changing times, he is reduced to a struggler if he chooses to get back in the film industry.

More than anything else, Sudheer’s struggle lies in accepting himself. For a Bombay which is mostly known as a city of dreams, “Kaamyaab” becomes a film of the broken dreams – of those who just couldn’t make it. He is one of those failures – someone who will never be the poster-boy that he desired to be. To portray a much younger version of this symbolic pessimism, Isha (played by Isha Talvar) is introduced as his neighbor and a young actress trying to get any acting gig that she can. Both of them represent something that will always remain constant in this city – the rejections. While Sudheer is a veteran actor, an actress in the late-twenties will have a disastrous impact on such conditioning.

During their conversations, she shows him the portraits on her walls – several artists who committed suicide at the age of 27. Sudheer wonders whether ‘dying young’ is the only way to achieve this poetic greatness. They have a bit of laugh on it – on how both of them are past that age. But there is an undeniable underlying sadness. For her, that is the way to keep reminding that one can fall on either side with a lack of control. After all, life’s a gamble. Kaamyaab might be one of the only Bollywood films to address another side of the coin without sugar-coating it.

In the process, Kaamyaab makes an adorable superhero out of Sanjay Mishra. Everyone who admires the classic era of Bollywood would find at least something to connect with him. He is that inescapable joy from the escapist cinema. Hardik Mehta successfully creates a poignant Meta-film– something that only Zoya Akhtar was able to achieve through “Luck By Chance”. He makes this bittersweet dramedy so appealing that you cannot dismiss its overbearing melancholia or even the underlying cheerful sweetness. 

Apart from Sanjay Mishra’s eccentric turn, the supporting performances play a big role in elevating the film. Be it Isha Talvar’s performance as a starry-eyed neighbor or Deepak Dobriyal in the role of a wishful casting agent, they make their presence felt apart from their parts in Sudheer’s life. Even all the veteran actors drinking beside him (Mishra) on the table can make even an episode of “Horace and Pete” pale for their misery. Their collective pessimism makes up enough to get a sense of these elderly artistes stuck between getting a special gig and getting just any gig. They help Kaamyaab become an ode of changing times.

And for an industry which is known for celebrating just the poster-boy, Kaamyaab feels like a breath of fresh air. It celebrates these side-actors – treats their lives with enough dignity and respect. Piyush Puty’s cinematography is able to capture the tiniest bits of nuances on his face. Your takeaway from the film as an incredible empathy for Sudheer’s character depends just as much as how the camera is handled. After all, when the curtains fall, the actor still needs to keep living. Kaamyaab succeeds in presenting that. It is a wonder if it does not make you teary-eyed.