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Sunday, December 3, 2023

Sharmaji Namkeen Review: A Soulful Adieu To India’s Legendary Actor

It is extremely rare we get to see two actors playing the same role in cinema. However, in the case of Sharmaji Namkeenthis is the result of unforeseen circumstances. What began as a film, is now the memorabilia of Rishi Kapoor in his last screen appearance in the titular role. Fulfilling the incomplete portions of Kapoor, is another iconic actor, Paresh Rawal.

Delhi-based B. G. Sharma is a 58-year-old retired widower and a middle-class man. He is one of the millions of faceless people in a mundane routine called life.  A man of many prejudices and limited knowledge, Sharma struggles to cope with retirement. He keeps finding ways to stay relevant but only ends up getting in his two sons’ ways (played by Taaruk Raina and Suhail Nayyar).

The only time he really comes into his own is when he is in the kitchen. He is a cook nonpareil, waiting to be discovered, not yet fully aware of his culinary superpower. Until one day, he comes into contact with a bunch of merry women. A Kitty Party. They rekindle in Sharma, a passion for cooking and life in general. A zest that was missing. We then see super-chef Sharma living a double life as he overcomes his own as well as society’s prejudices, on his way to finding greater significance.

Director Hitesh Bhatia, after a long time, presents a Hindi film that is simple and sweet in essence. At one point, Sharma’s friend Chadda (Satish Kaushik) calls him the ‘working-class hero’. And The concept empowers the elder citizens of society, providing them with a voice that age never validates the sanctity of life. The story emphasises the spirit of self-love and embracing one’s identity.

The unlikely friendship between Sharma and Veena (Juhi Chawla), a widow and part of the Kitty party is incredibly endearing to watch. We observe how mutual emotions and circumstances, beyond gender, bind us as human beings. Shots of them in a car together signify how they are going through similar thoughts. Having said that, I would’ve liked to see more about Veena and how she lives, aside from the regular kitty parties. Chawla, by the way, is an absolute delight. And so are Ayesha Raza Mishra, Sulagna Panigrahi and Sheeba Chadha. They are a joy to watch.

Recently, The Great Indian Kitchen addresses misogyny and how a woman is restricted to cooking and domestic chores. Here, we see an elderly man step into the kitchen, who finds food-making a form of liberation. Delicacies shown and mentioned make one feel hungry and the foods become an instrumental character in this picture. The food represents life and how delicious it can be, should one choose to eat it.

Then in another comical video of Sharmaji performing a Naagin dance, to which all the men, mock him and he becomes subject to embarrassment. This parallel is drawn with Zindagi Tamasha. In this, a ‘respected’ and devoted Muslim man gets socially eschewed after a video that shows his dancing to a female song goes viral. Very smoothly, the movie addresses gender stereotypes and how the mindset of society requires urgent change. There are frequent references to various political issues, which seem random and misplaced.

The heart and soul of Sharmaji Namkeen are certainly in the right place. However, I feel that a tighter screenplay would’ve made the movie more layered. We understand that his rapport with his elder son is dysfunctional. But there is the scope for him to get along with the younger offspring. I would’ve liked to see more layers as a family. This would’ve made the complexities and differences more relatable. I also feel the movie could’ve also dived deeper into the psyche of Sharmaji. How not only does he deal with life, but his mental well-being too.

It is interesting how Paresh Rawal just did Dear Father which explores the disconnect between generations and the sentimental isolation endured by OAPs. In this movie, he adds a sarcastic, comical touch to the character. Whereas Rishi Kapoor exudes gentility, cuteness and empathy. Kapoor has done films like Pyaar Mein Twist and 102 Not Out. Thus, he portrays characters with ‘second innings’ of life very beautifully.

Initially, I was sceptical as to whether both actors playing the same role would work, but it actually does. Kudos goes to the editor Bodhaditya Banerjee for cutting the film in a way that makes the roles seem parallel to each other. The duo’s contrasting crafts add differing perspectives/shades to Sharmaji. Due to fate, this movie creates history and it is competent.

Sharmaji Namkeen is a breath of fresh air as it reminds us of the simple and sweet cinema we’ve been missing for a while. Sure, it may not be flawless, but it has sincerity and compassion. Sharmaji’s vivacious and perennial spirit pays a heartfelt homage to our beloved Chintu Ji and the legacy he leaves behind. Worth a stream.

⭐⭐⭐ (3/5 stars)

Sharmaji Namkeeen is backed by Excel Entertainment and Abhishek Chaubey. It streams on Amazon Prime Video.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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