Sharmaji Namkeen’s novelty adds charm to warmth

Rishi Kapoor in and as Sharmaji Namkeen Photo: Trailer Video Grab 

Make no mistake: I am among the biggest fans of a world-class, phenomenally underrated actor who died too early—Rishi Kapoor. I am a greater fan of him as a person, and I was always amazed, if a little belatedly gratified that despite such a fantastic body of work all along, this man’s talent was recognized so late—in fact, only after he shifted to character roles.

Discussing this aspect with Rishi himself once, he had just shrugged and spoken ruefully about actors trapped in set images in his prime. He narrated an incident after the release of his 2010 film Do Dooni Chaar, about a top filmmaker who was amazed by his performance as a middle-aged Delhi school teacher! Rishi told him that filmmakers, including this director, had never given him such opportunities!

With these facts behind me, what do I think of Sharmaji Namkeen? After all, a 40-plus friend, our housemaid and a junior fellow scribe all raved about the film after watching it. Nostalgia, as told by an illustrious soul whose name I do not recollect, can be a mirror that distorts perspective. So I have to separate the movie from the actor here.

Rishi Kapoor’s character now is again based in Delhi. He is B.G. (Brij Gopal) Sharma, who has been given “voluntary” retirement at 58 by his boss at Madhuban Home Appliances and does not know what to do with his time. He is a widower living with his two sons, Sandeep (Suhail Nayyar) and Vincy (Taaruk Raina). Vincy is crazy about dance more than academics and Brij Gopal wants him to set a goal and find a livelihood for himself. Sandeep is earning well, is ambitious and wants to move into a posh apartment with them and his ladylove (Isha Talwar). Brij Gopal is given multiple advices by all on how to lead a life of retirement. He feels no one really understands his feelings. He is an expert cook, as it happens, and willing to learn.

One transient option that he chooses, on friend Chadha (Satish Kaushik)’s insistence, is to cook for a religious function at the latter’s acquaintance Manju Gulati (Sheeba Chadha)’s home. When Brij Gopal goes there, he is shocked to find that the function is anything but religious and is a kitty party.

But when his cooking floors all the women, he is repeatedly invited for similar occasions by Manju’s friends and even for an actual religious function. He becomes a friend to all of them, especially the widowed Veena (Juhi Chawla), a tough woman who has gone through a lot in her life. For some time, he manages to conceal this new occupation of sorts from his sons, but soon the secret is out.

Meanwhile, Sandeep’s promised apartment does not materialize as its builder Jain (Akashdeep Manmohan Sabir) lands in trouble with the law. About to lose his life’s savings, Sandeep assaults Jain and lands up in the police station. What happens next?

A slice-of-middle-class-life film, the movie is a warm saga with its heart in the right place. For me, Sharmaji Namkeen worked far better than Do Dooni Chaar, but for the fact that in the final analysis (as a viewer first and critic later, which I am always!) it is a saga that could have been developed much more than what it is within the framework of the same plot. It could have been funnier throughout, yet more dramatic and intense at the right places. A mainstream writer, perhaps, could have made this crucial difference.

Still, let us forget what could have been for what it is! The climax is well-written on the whole, especially in the way the dumb charades game is played. And for once, the overbearing Delhi-Punjab flavor does not jar, as it is not out of place.

The biggest ace of the movie is its novelty: when Rishi Kapoor left the film incomplete, his portions were completed by Paresh Rawal. Since no Hindi film is shot chronologically, we see Rishi and Paresh alternate, many times within the same sequence. My gut-feel says that Paresh has redone some scenes already shot by Rishi, to maintain and enhance the novelty of two actors playing one character.

Hitesh Bhatia makes a good debut as co-writer and director, though he fares far better in the latter department. Rishi is incredibly in tune as always, and we do get the occasional twinge that he is not there throughout. Paresh Rawal, though largely  himself and never a clone of Rishi, is impressive as a substitute. This, in fact, is what makes his performance more impactful, for he is never a mimic. Juhi Chawla, Sheeba Chadha, Ayesha Reza and Sulagna Panigrahi as the ladies are adorably lifelike, and I loved Raj (!) Sharma as the female cop.

Parmeet Sethi does well as Robbie, the mayor, in a short role. Satish Kaushik is his usual self. Suhail Nayyar as the well-meaning but stern son is effective, as is Taaruk Raina in a shorter role as Vincy.

The film is crisply edited (Bodhaditya Banerjee) and technically good. Sneha Khanwalkar’s background music is effective. But her songs are what we get nowadays—functional and unimpressive. Gopal Datt’s humorous lyris, at best, are tepid.

Watch this film then for its sheer nostalgia and that actor colossus—Rishi Kapoor. Arguably, he was the finest actor that came out of this illustrious clan, and inarguably, one of the greatest ever in Hindi cinema.

Rating: ***1/2

Amazon Prime Video presents Excel Entertainment’s & MacGuffin Pictures’ Sharmaji Namkeen  Produced by: Ritesh Sidhwani, Farhan Akhtar, Abhishek Chaubey & Honey Trehan  Directed by:Hitesh Bhatia Written by:Hitesh Bhatia & Supratik Sen Music: Sneha Khanwalkar  Starring: Rishi Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Juhi Chawla, Suhail Nayyar, Isha Talwar, Taaruk Raina, Satish Kaushik, Parmeet Sethi, Sheeba Chadha, Ayesha Reza, Sulagna Panigrahi, Gufi Paintal, Shishir Sharma, Anjuman  Saxena, Suparna Marwah, Akashdeep Manmohan Sabir & others




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