Director: Hitesh Bhatia
Writers: Supratik Sen, Hitesh Bhatia
Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Juhi Chawla, Suhail Nayyar, Taaruk Raina, Sheeba Chaddha, Satish Kaushik, Isha Talwar and Ayesha Raza Mishra
Cinematography: Harendra Singh, Piyush Putty
Editor: Bodhaditya Banerjee
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
Watching a posthumously released film is a little complicated. It becomes difficult to be objective about a film when it is somebody’s final work. Especially when the artist is of Rishi Kapoor’s stature. The legendary actor passed away midway through Sharmaji Namkeen’s shooting. The makers getting another actor in Paresh Rawal to play the same role was a big challenge. Because both actors are miles apart in terms of physicality, body language and diction. Watching two actors playing the same role could be jarring especially when parts of a scene/sequence features both of them. This is a logistical issue. But credit to the continuity supervisors, editor and director that these transitions play out smoothly. More importantly you are so invested in the character of Sharmaji that you get over the fact of two different actors playing the role.
Sharmaji Namkeen is that rare slice-of-life film which keeps ‘gyaan’ at bay. The film paces as a pleasant breeze. After a long time I found myself smiling throughout the film. The film is filled with fun, funny, heart-warming moments. The conflict is a matter of fact. There’s no melodrama. However there are references to Baghban – a one dimensional parent-kid drama. Sharma has had to take a VRS from his job and he has got nothing else to do. He has been the cook to his sons after his wife died. When his friend (Satish Kaushik) suggests that he takes up his hobby seriously to earn a living, he decides to give it a try, just as a hobby. His first gig is at a kitty-party of a group of housewives led by Juhi Chawla and Sheeba Chaddha.
The unlikely camaraderie between the old retired man and these housewives have one thing in common – the struggle for identity. How easily we forget/neglect these people? Director Bhatia along with co-writer Supratik Sen give these characters a voice and space of their own. As a son whose father retired just at the beginning of the pandemic, the character of Sharmaji was easily relatable for me. In the conflict between Sharmaji and his elder son Rinku (Suhail Nayyar), the son is not made to be the villain. He has his own struggles of getting out of the middle-class rut and achieving a better standard of life, buying a house and getting married. The makers give each character in however small roles and screen-time their integrity and a reason to be there in the scene.
Rishi Kapoor owning the character and space is his final master class in acting. In a way, Kapoor and Rawal are two different sides of Sharmaji. Kapoor is the tender, dreamy, kind one whereas Rawal is his go-getter, straightforward self who stands for himself. There’s a lot to admire in these performances. That is true for most of the other cast as well. Juhi Chawla, Satish Kaushik, Ayesha Raza Mirza, Suhail Nayyar get into their characters with an ease. Special mention to Sheeba Chaddha, such a sorted actor who I think can breathe life into even a cardboard character. Her recent outing as the aloof mother of Rajkummar Rao in Badhaai Do shows what she can do with so little material.
Also read: Producer Farhan Akhtar revealed why Paresh Rawal was the perfect choice to step into the shoes of Late Rishi Kapoor for Sharmaji Namkeen
Sharmaji Namkeen could have been a nightmare logistically. Shooting a film over a couple of years that too during a pandemic with two different actors playing the same role. One can only imagine how the crew must have pulled it off. Nothing hurts your eyes w.r.t. look and script continuity, performances, production design, sound design, editing – Sharmaji Namkeen scores big on all levels.
Sharmaji Namkeen ends with a beautifully written, directed and performed sequence at a local police station in Delhi. When you think it is impossible to make the son acknowledge his old father’s existence and identity, the sequence swiftly changes gears into resolving the conflict and subtly tells you that the basics of any relationship to work is communication and your willingness to listen.
For someone whose parents are of Sharmaji’s age and stage in life, it would be impossible to watch the film without introspecting. Also, Rishi Kapoor was the poster boy of their generation. The parents of the millennial generation have seen the most drastic change in terms of generation gap courtesy of the internet and technology. It’s difficult to take everyone with us in the rapidly changing world. We can only do this – be considerate, be attentive to each other. If it takes a Rishi Kapoor movie for you to realize this, go watch this slice-of-life gem.