Sharmaji Namkeen Review: Rishi Kapoor’s Last Film Is a Sweet and Savoury Slice of Retired Life

Rishi Kapoor’s Sharmaji Namkeen

Before Sharmaji Namkeen begins, Ranbir Kapoor presents the film by saying it’s a very special film for him. It’s special not only because it is  Rishi Kapoor’s last film, but because he really believed in the story. Even when he was diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatment, he really wanted this film to be completed anyhow. From the film, Kapoor’s earnestness to play the character of Brij Gopal Sharma, a young-at-heart retired gentleman in his late 50s, exudes a warmth and tenderness that makes the film as delectably palatable as the dishes he whips up in a jiffy.

Rishi Kapoor passed away while shooting this film. Ranbir informs us there were many ideas to complete it including one where he wanted to fill in his dad’s shoes with prosthetic make ups, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, Paresh Rawal came to the rescue and agreed to fill in Rishi Kapoor’s shoes. Rarely has this been done in any film industry, let alone Bollywood.

Although, Paresh Rawal’s Sharmaji & Rishi Kapoor’s Sharmaji aren’t markedly different they’re not symbolic representations of two opposite facets of the same character, Bhatia isn’t interested in binaries here. There are conspicuous differences in the mannerisms. Rawal’s Sharma is crankier and sulks often. Whereas, Kapoor is mostly mellow and endearing sweet chap what a way to play the final shot of your life’s innings.

But, make no mistake, this is not an old man’s lament for the younger generation’s neglect of their parents (if that brings to your mind Baghban (2003), you're quite right, there are indeed passing references to Baghban).  Neither is this a deriding cry of a grumpy old man who has alienated his family by his stern and authoritative ways.  Quite the contrary, there are no identifiable villains in the Sharma family.

 B.G. Sharma was a rather happy man, a widower who was content with cooking savoury foods for his two sons and managing the day-to-day affairs, until retirement brought down heavily on him the pangs of old age boredom. Putting his culinary skills at use, he starts moonlighting as a home chef for a motley crew of cheery, bubbly, flirtatious, middle-aged upper-class women whose ages betray their bygone youth but their kitty party activities reveal otherwise.

 In a passing remark, a member of the kitty party says cooking is an art. Judging by the fact that art is a means of expression, Sharmaji definitely is a culinary artist par excellence. After a heated argument with his elder son, Rinku (Suhail Nayyar) over the autonomy of his life and his freedom of (career) choice, he markedly thumps the food on the table and leaves for his ‘day job’. Even the kitty party members bear the brunt when the hotness of the food bears out his pent-up anger.

 We have seen these characters before, both on-screen (Piku (2015)) & off-screen (that neighbour uncle whose days revolve around Whatsapp forwards and mushy soap-operas.)  But, Hitesh Bhatia & Supratik Sen, the writers of the film, present the familiar story in a delightfully endearing way. The kitty party women, in spite of their shenanigans, aren’t at the butt end of ridicule, but their story is of urban loneliness, conflict between family and aspirations and defying norms with fierce independence. Juhi Chawla, Sheeba Chadda, Isha Kaul, and others do a fantastic job to portray that.

 The film also captures the family dynamics quite well  the generational conflict between a grown-up son, with high aspirations and an aged father of modest dreams again a story we’ve found earlier in Dibakar Banerjee’s Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006), even in a different way in Aankhon Dekhi  (2013) as well.  But, the conflict recedes to a subplot, while B.G. Sharma, chef-on-demand and his playful hide-and-seek suspense takes the front seat and leads to increasingly knotty yet funny situations.

 A well-written comedy has become a rare commodity in Bollywood. Because, well-written comedy demands a close, deep, and patient observation, whereas, most films are sunk down by their slapdash caricaturing of a few characters and feeble attempts to rely on the hackneyed tropes to pull out the laughter. It’s a sheer delight to witness a light-hearted breezy comedy that is sincere about each character and does not reduce them to mere stereotypes to make us laugh at their expense. While the film stretches a little longer than it should have been, it doesn’t lose its sheen, mainly because of this. And, again, the final credit goes to the writer duo for this.

 Sharmaji Namkeen is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Watch the trailer here.



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