The words that Brij Gopal Sharma reads out during his retirement party, right at the start of the film, hark us back to the 1975 Bollywood film, Dharam Karam, where we had first heard Raj Kapoor sing these lines in Kishor Kumar’s voice. Sharmaji tears up a little; we immediately understand that nothing could have been a better prologue to a film that seeks to pay tribute to Raj Kapoor’s son and one of the shining stars of Bollywood cinema, the Late Rishi Kapoor, who passed away in April 2020, leaving the shooting of this film unfinished. Sharmaji Namkeen, directed by Hitesh Bhatia, is, in every way, a treat to our eyes and our soul, touching on simple, sensitive subjects without rippling into melodrama.
Our protagonist, Brij Gopal Sharma, is 58 years old and has been laid off from work. However, so used to the jostle of his working days, he finds it increasingly uncomfortable to settle into the laid-back and oft-desired life of a retiree. He is in unequal parts complaining and enterprising to make up for the ample amount of time on his hands. However, his peculiar conundrum is barely communicated to his sons, especially the elder son, Sandeep a.k.a. Rinku Sharma (played by Sahail Nayyar) who thinks his father is too busy feeling sad to be able to steer the reins of his life. Through his daily routine, the only activity that sustains him is his passion for cooking food. Soon, it shows itself in public, and Sharmaji’s life jolts into relevance.
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Unlike most films whose narrative concerns itself with the many shades of grey necessary to make it appear realistic, the writers, Hitesh Bhatia and Supratik Sen, are not concerned about it. Everyone in this movie is mostly cheerful. No inconvenience rattles their life into existential realizations, not even Sandeep’s when he senses the possibility of losing out on all his life savings. I can’t say I am displeased with this airy quality of writing for a 119 minutes-long film that could have precipitated into melodrama, following the footsteps of the film Bhagban (2003). Perhaps, the runtime is a little too long; but it doesn’t get tedious despite the offshoots of the main narrative, especially the song sequences, appearing pointless more than once.
When I think of Lt. Rishi Kapoor in his final days of acting, I’d like to remember him dancing to the superhit Sunny Leone song, Baby Doll pe Sone Di…, in his pajamas while cooking breakfast in a kitchen. As humorous as that sounds, the weird quirks of the protagonist, Sharmaji, in this movie keep tickling your spirits till the very end. Something is uplifting but equally sad about his posthumous presence in the film. It leaves you with the knowledge that the late actor cherished his art, having fun while he played his part to perfection. An equally notable actor, Paresh Rawal, takes the baton from this late actor, slips into his character and clothes, and makes it to the finishing line for him. The result is a crafty mix of two splendid performances, equally satisfying to watch on the screen.
In Ogo Bodhu Shundori, a 1981 Bengali comedy directed by Salil Dutta, Uttam Kumar, the Mahanayak of Bengali cinema, made his posthumous appearance in almost similar circumstances. In that film, the gaps in his character were filled up by another person – someone who played the part without facing the camera, speaking with his back turned to it or from a distance. More than 40 years later, this film is unafraid to show us that life is transitory, but, as Ranbir Kapoor puts it during the cold open of this film, “The show must go on!”. To that extent, the camera work and editing go hand-in-hand to give us a flavour of both the performances, smoothening cinematic transitions, making it a unitary experience I cannot recall having enjoyed before.
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Juhi Chawla plays her usual bubbly self as Mrs. Manchanda, Sharmaji’s quiet crush. We also spot a flirtatious and outspoken Sheeba Chaddha in this film, a role so unlike her recent performance as Shardul Thakur’s mother in Badhaai Do (2022) that it helps you fathom her manicured skills as an actor. I must mention the kitty party group which Sharmaji befriends, much to the annoyance and ridicule of his extended family. These are women who assemble to enjoy a few moments of pleasure, friendship, and freedom away from the glaring eyes of their lives. If we probe into this line of thought, Sharmaji makes a perfect fit for the group because it allows him to be himself, away from the responsibilities binding him and at one with his passion. The kitty party, then, is a space for freedom. I must also mention that food, I strongly believe, is a love language in itself, and this film seeks to explore, without stressing it too much, how food grants freedom and pleasure in equal amounts, bringing out the human in us.
If Sharmaji Namkeen doesn’t satisfy your idea of conflict resolution, so be it. It more-or-less succeeds to teach you a little about life, food, friendship, and family – none of them being so imbalanced that you cannot add raw potatoes to bring them back to perfection. Stay till the end, have fun hunting the many Easter Egg tributes in the film, and don’t forget to note the Sharmaji special chutney recipe in the process.
Sharmaji Namkeen is now streaming on Prime Video
Sharmaji Namkeen (2022) Links – IMDb, Wikipedia
Sharmaji Namkeen (2022) Cast – Rishi Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, Isha Talwar, Paresh Rawal, Sheeba Chaddha, Satish Kaushik