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#FilmReview: There’s Something Very Special About ‘Sharmaji Namkeen’

The film is celebratory and its appetite for living life in all its golgappa glory is enormous

Suparna Sharma Apr 03, 2022

A still from 'Sharmaji Namkeen.' Photo: Amazon Prime Video

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Sharmaji Namkeen
Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Juhi Chawla, Suhail Nayyar, Satish Kaushik, Isha Talwar, Parmeet Sethi
Direction: Hitesh Bhatia
Rating: ★★★
Streaming on Prime Video

It is not an easy decision to watch a film that stars a beloved actor but releases after he or she has passed away. We approach them with some anxiety because these films can be deeply disturbing and can weigh on our conscience. However bad the film or the actor may be, we can’t dislike them because we feel like we are the pall-bearers, responsible for ensuring a somber, dignified farewell.

Thankfully, there haven’t been many such movies. Of the few that have come our way, some were tender, none were great.

But Sharmaji Namkeen is different. There is something very special about it. 

Rishi Kapoor, who plays the lead character in Sharmaji Namkeen, passed away on April 30, 2020. He shot several scenes for the film, but most were incomplete, like half sentences with ellipses.

Writer-director Hitesh Bhatia and the entire team of Sharmaji Namkeen took this adhi-adhoori film and decided to complete it by using another actor, Paresh Rawal. And it seems that when Bollywood misses someone dearly, it can outdo itself. 

Sharmaji Namkeen, Rishi Kapoor’s last film, is a labor of love and a cinematic marvel. The film has been constructed intelligently and with such care that nothing seems amiss in scenes that begin with Rishi Kapoor but then Paresh Rawal picks them up and completes them. 

Pulling this off so seamlessly and beautifully is especially incredible because Paresh Rawal is not at all like Rishi Kapoor. 

Kapoor was a star who could act, while Rawal is a character actor who can play any role assigned to him with ease. Rishi was free flowing, light-footed, a heartthrob, Rawal is sometimes heavy and mannered.  

Curly-haired Rishi always flaunted that unmistakable Kapoor haughtiness. It added spunk to his starry charm. The camera loved him and he had to do less to convey what Rawal needs to do a little more of.

Despite this, Paresh Rawal completes Rishi Kapoor in Sharmaji Namkeen in a way that is impressive and touching. 

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Rawal doesn’t play Sharmaji in this film, he plays Rishi Kapoor. But he doesn’t try to act or shine like Rishi, he simply merges. In several scenes it seems as if he emerges from Rishi Kapoor and then returns to him, almost adding a spiritual dimension to the proceedings. 

Sharmaji Namkeen is the perfect farewell party that Bollywood could have thrown for Rishi Kapoor. And like all goodbyes, it’s as much about his presence as it is about his absence.

Though the film’s title hints otherwise, Sharmaji Namkeen is about savories, not sex.  

Brij Gopal Sharma (Rishi Kapoor), a widower, lives in Subhash Nagar, West Delhi, with his two sons who are busy with their lives. The elder one, Rinku (Suhail Nayyar), works and dreams of living in a fancy apartment in Gurgaon with his girlfriend Urmi. The younger one, Vincy, is in college.

Though he doesn’t feel like he is done just yet, Sharmaji is forced to take voluntary retirement from the home appliances firm, Madhuban, that he has worked with all his life. So he tries to fill his day by doing what he loves — cooking for his sons. But it’s not enough. Bored and irritable, he keeps looking for things to fill his day. There’s WhatsApp and Facebook, but they don’t offer the satisfaction that a “job” does. So he cribs and discusses business ideas and possible jobs with his friend, Chadda (Satish Kaushik).

Rinku disapproves of this and pretty much everything that his father says or wants. He keeps telling his dad to relax, to quietly pass his time like “normal” retired people. But Sharmaji’s friend Chadda, fed up with his cribbing, cons him into committing to a cooking gig. Sharmaji thinks he’ll be cooking for female devotees at a religious gathering, but finds himself feeding a frenzied kitty party where grown women wrap feather boas around their necks, drink and dance on top of tables to Baby doll main sone di… 

After some mandatory no-no-I-can’t-be-a-bawarchi, Sharmaji becomes a favourite of the kitty gang and, without informing his family, every week he puts on his tie and coat, packs his kadchi and masale in a briefcase and goes off to cook. 

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The women are rich wives who are warm and fun. And amongst them is Veena (Juhi Chawla), lovely and different from others. There is cute adoration and apapan in Sharmaji’s eyes when he looks at her… 

Sharmaji Namkeen has a simple, predictable story and a screenplay that is silly at times. The plotting is weak and some scenes are rushed and garbled, especially the end which involves a builder, a flat, Veena’s powerful mayor friend, corrupt cops and a dad who is finally seen and acknowledged.

But Sharmaji Namkeen is also on a high when Sharmaji is cooking for the kitty parties and it has some really funny lines, my favourite one being when a woman arrives in a glamorous animal print saree and a bitchy one comments, “Tu cheeta ban ke kyun aayi hai?” 
Sharmaji’s two bickering sons are very good, especially Rinku, and there is an aura to Juhi Chawla’s radiant presence that seems to convey that all is well with the world. 

But the best part about Sharmaji Namkeen is that it’s not heavy, it’s not sad. Its mood is celebratory and its appetite for living life in all its golgappa glory is enormous. It crackles with joy and warmth because of Rawal’s performance, the superb jugalbandi between the film’s cast and crew, and Rishi Kapoor’s powerful presence and sharp acting.

Almost everyone in the entertainment business everywhere is very fond of saying that one annoying line — “The show must go on”. Watch Sharmaji Namkeen to understand what that cliche really means, how tough it is sometimes to keep the show going, and yet, when it’s pulled off despite the most daunting odds, how special that show can be. 

Before Sharmaji Namkeen begins, Ranbir Kapoor introduces the film to us. I wish there was a curtain call, a final bow at the end so that we could give the film a standing ovation. Sharmaji Namkeen deserves it.

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