There are countless men like our Brij Gopal Sharma. Too young, at 58, to be given a golden handshake and turfed out of his workplace. Too active to ‘chill’ in his modest home and watch unending soaps where nothing ever happens, or lounge in the park, where the elderly gang gets together for yoga classes and neighbourhood gossip.
The one distinctive thing about Sharmaji (Rishi Kapoor) is that he loves rustling up finger lickin’ food, and he is the one, as a single father, who has lovingly fed his sons, now grown, one with a job, another in college. How does someone like him pass the time, as the days hang heavier and heavier?
‘Sharmaji Namkeen’ draws a portrait of middle-class ‘mohalla’ Delhi ( West Delhi, for the most part), keeping its ‘working class hero’ front and centre. At two hours, it gets stretched. Half an hour into the film, it is still going on about how Sharmaji is constantly being chivvied by his sons, and told how to live out the remainder of his life, before allowing him a nice respite, which involves a bunch of jolly, giggly, middle-aged ‘kitty aunties’, in the need of a break themselves.
It is a Delhi we have seen before, in Dibakar Banerji’s early films amongst others. It is also a Rishi Kapoor we have seen before, in Habib Faisal’s Do Dooni Chaar, 2010, which was also set in middle-class Delhi, with its crowded DDA houses, nosey neighbours, and ‘tuition uncles’.
But unlike Banerji’s edgier West Delhi, this one is more affectionate: old friends bicker, using delightfully salty Punjabi expletives, but also look out for each other. Fathers and sons argue but the bond between them remains rock solid – ‘badaa ladka’ Suhail Nayyar works in a shiny Gurgaon high-rise, has an upper class girl-friend in Isha Talwar, and is desperate to become upwardly mobile; younger son Taaruk Raina gets a ‘compartment’ in his exams, but is happy in his dance group.
The best parts of the film, which flattens occasionally, are the portions which focus on the shy Sharmaji shedding his reluctance and finding easy companionship with the ladies who kitty-party their dull afternoons away, playing naughty dumb charade games, or dancing to Yeh Duniya Pittal Di: Sheeba Chaddha, Ayesha Raza Mishra are hoots, and Juhi Chawla makes us smile, especially in those parts where she and Rishi Kapoor share screen space. You wish the film had him break out on the dance floor too, taking us back to a time when they were young and twinkly-toed, danced and romanced, and swept us off our feet.
You watch the film as a tribute to Rishi Kapoor. When he left us in an untimely fashion, he was doing all kinds of roles, from kohl-eyed baddies to cantankerous grandpas. This one, his last, has a message tucked in its telling: embrace change, go out of your comfort zone, where unexpected pleasures may await.
He had fallen gravely ill during the making of the film, and Paresh Rawal stepped in for him. The film’s editor must have had quite a task, splicing scenes with the two actors, making them flow. Paresh Rawal’s Sharmaji, togged out in Kapoor’s trademark checked sweater and muffler, is efficient. But Rishi Kapoor is truly namkeen, showing us how it is done, light on his feet, light in his eyes, a will to live. Jeena isi ka naam hai.
Sharmaji Namkeen movie cast: Rishi Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Juhi Chawla, Satish Kaushik, Suhail Nayyar, Isha Talwar, Sheeba Chaddha, Ayesh Raza Mishra, Taaruk Raina
Sharmaji Namkeen movie director: Hitesh Bhatia
Sharmaji Namkeen movie rating: 2.5 stars