Since 2010, Juhi Chawla’s cinematic appearances have been few and far between. Save for ‘Son of Sardar’ in 2012 and ‘Gulaab Gang’ (2014), the actor hasn’t been seen much on film. Like several of her contemporaries though, the treasure trove of over-the-top (OTT) content doing the rounds has given Juhi the opportunity to make a big Bollywood splash.
When ‘Sharmaji Namkeen’ released on Amazon Prime Video last week, it opened to heart-warming reviews and critical acclaim for the late Rishi Kapoor’s final Bollywood innings, and Juhi’s evergreen performances. In fact, the film was only one among several OTT releases that have given veteran actors a chance to remind audiences that they’ve still got it.
“OTTs have opened up a whole new world for actors,” says Juhi, as she sits down for a chat with CNBC-TV18.com. “You don’t have the boundary of time and you have stories that can be dealt with at their own pace,” she adds, “Pauses and nuances can be explored; characters, apart from the one or two protagonists, are also treated the way they should be, and stories are interwoven.”
A still from Sharmaji Namkeen.
In fact, given the volume of OTT content released post-pandemic, the veteran actor believes there’s no better time to be part of the boom: “It’s a great time to be an actor, director or a director of photography, or just to be in the industry.”
However, the veteran actor is the first to admit that there’s no rivalling the charm of the big screen. “I’m from the school of cinema where going to the theatre to see your favourite stars was a treat for you and your family, and you looked up at them because they were larger than life,” she says, “I don’t know if that can be replicated on an OTT screen. Some films deserve to be on the big screen — like historical and mythological films.
The trade-off between big-screen and OTT platform notwithstanding, the fact remains that the last couple of years have seen a number of OTT series like ‘Aranyak’ (2021) starring Raveena Tandon, and ‘Aarya’ (2020) featuring Sushmita Sen have bear testimony to the longevity and acting prowess of these stars. This, even as the millennial generation has sealed their place on the big-screen. ‘Sharmaji Namkeen’ is no different.
Starring Juhi Chawla, Rishi Kapoor and Paresh Rawal (filling in for Rishi Kapoor after the actor’s unfortunate demise in April 2020, before filming was complete), ‘Sharmaji Namkeen’ is a the story of a man who begins exploring retired life after many decades of working.
The film is light, funny, relevant, relatable, and feels a lot like a cup of warm tea on a wintry morning. Rawal in particular does a commendable job of carrying the role of Sharmaji from the able shoulders of Kapoor -- the film does not use VFX or prosthetics to recreate the character played by Kapoor -- simply by relegating himself to the background and letting Rishi Kapoor’s Sharmaji remain in the spotlight.
Paresh Rawal filled in for Rishi Kapoor after the actor’s unfortunate demise in April 2020, before filming was complete.
Juhi, in her acting as well as screen presence, is an absolute delight, while Mr Kapoor tugs at the heartstrings simply by way of being… well… Rishi Kapoor.
“Working with Chintuji (Rishi Kapoor) was a delight," as her voice breaks with emotion as she reminisces on her last few days with the actor before he fell ill, “He was endearingly witty, impatient and grumpy; he would scold us and entertain us. He was a joy to work with -- effortless and unlike many of us, not self-obsessed.”
One of Juhi Chawla’s last memories of Rishi Kapoor included her spending time with the star while he received treatment for Leukaemia. “We were sharing anecdotes but he was a little preoccupied,” she recalls, “A month later he was gone, and that to me was the most disturbing part of it all -- having had so much fun with him on the sets, and laughing so much with him, I couldn’t believe that this person was no more.”
And while adjusting to a whole other actor taking Rishi Kapoor’s place on the sets of ‘Sharmaji Namkeen’ was initially hard to imagine, Juhi admits that Rawal took on the challenge like a true professional: “I remember the first day with Paresh-ji was a little awkward because we were acting out a scene in a car with Chintuji, and here was another actor playing the same role. It was then that I began dwelling on life and how it moves on.”
In fact, before ‘Sharmaji Namkeen’ begins, Rishi Kapoor’s son and Bollywood actor Ranbir, makes an appearance explaining that Rawal would essay Rishi Kapoor’s role, after filmmakers struck down plans of using VFX or prosthetics to fill for Kapoor’s absence.
Before ‘Sharmaji Namkeen’ begins, Rishi Kapoor’s son and Bollywood actor Ranbir, makes an appearance explaining that Rawal would essay Rishi Kapoor’s role.
With ‘Sharmaji Namkeen’ done and dusted now, is Juhi back to being the original boss-woman of the Kolkata Knight Riders? After all, it’s great time to own the team thanks to KKR playing some of its best cricket courtesy of stellar performances by Pat Cummins, Andre Russell and Umesh Yadav.
“When someone asks me about cricket, I know it’s time for me to run far, far away,” she laughs, “Maybe I should call Jhanvi (daughter) for help because she knows much more about cricket than I do!”
Juhi says she does what most of her fellow team-owners don’t do — pray. “I’m very happy that Shreyas (Iyer) is heading our team," after some prodding to talk cricket, “It’s just the beginning of the season and we are doing well so far. Three wins, one loss, and I hope the streak continues. So, I don’t want to say anything too soon.”
What Kolkata Knight Riders fans have truly enjoyed this season are top-drawer performances from some unlikely stars like Yadav who is a purple cap contender, having picked up wickets at a rapid clip. Juhi agrees. “He’s got to keep it up because there’s still an entire season out there. Also in the running for the Orange Cap is Andre Russell — it feels nice when members of your team are topping the charts.”
Keeping cricket aside, the veteran actor says she’s been met with a flood of acting offers. “You will see me in a web series playing a pivotal role, and in a film that is going to be released on an OTT platform. I’ve had more offers coming to me today than before.” The first of these, presumably, is Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Hush Hush’ scheduled to be released soon.
First Published: IST