Had it been a Hindi television show or a film in the 1980s, Sharmaji would have met with an accident and undergone plastic surgery to justify his character’s constant oscillation between Rishi Kapoor and Paresh Rawal. But mercifully, the makers of Sharmaji Namkeen are smarter than that.
Kapoor had shot a considerable part of the film when he was diagnosed with cancer and rushed to New York for immediate treatment in 2018. The film, therefore, was stuck in limbo, waiting for him to get better and return. But he never did. The practical way forward would have been to reshoot the whole thing with a new actor. But the makers of Sharmaji Namkeen loved Kapoor too much to reduce him to a dedication at the beginning of the film and move on without him.
So they did what no one in Hindi films has done so far. They did not shelve the movie or reshoot Kapoor’s scenes. Although they did consider it, they decided not to make Ranbir Kapoor pass off as his father. No matter how sophisticated the VFX, it’d have been ludicrous. After much delay and deliberation, they just cast an actor as skilled as Kapoor to shoot whatever remained of the film.
Rawal looks nothing like Kapoor and Sharmaji Namkeen doesn’t try to make you believe it either. The beauty of this film lies in its audacity. Instead of trying tricks to make the camouflage look more believable, it starts with a short message from Ranbir, stating things as they are. In the heartfelt introduction, he talks about how important the film was to his father and thanks Rawal for filling in his shoes and making this movie possible.
Director Hitesh Bhatia and the team have made the two actors play Sharmaji with intelligence. The transition from one to the other may feel jarring at first, but that’s where equipping the audience with the larger context plays its role. It also helps that most of the cooking scenes are performed by Kapoor. Rawal gets the other parts, the ones that don’t involve a show of Sharmaji’s culinary prowess as much.
Kapoor is delightful and endearing as a 58-year-old West-Delhi man who takes his love for cooking to other people’s kitchens and hearts after he is forced to retire as the general manager of a home appliance company. His zeal is infectious, his attempts to whip up a storm inside the kitchen, adorable. Sharmaji Namkeen is at its best when it has Kapoor in the frame. He enlivens every scene with his inimitable charisma and restless energy. Had the makers decided to remove Kapoor from the film, it would have lost its beating heart.
Sharmaji Namkeen marks the end of Kapoor’s glorious career spanning 52 years. Even though no one knew that it would turn out to be his last, this film is a loving, fitting homage to a star who started entertaining moviegoers when he was 18 and hoped to continue even when he was convalescing from cancer.
Rawal doesn’t try to mimic or be Kapoor’s Sharmaji in any way. He’s too seasoned an actor to make such a faux pas. His iteration of Sharmaji is very much his own and stands as a testament to how secure he is as an actor. Aware that this is essentially a Rishi Kapoor film—his last—Rawal plays what he is given with remarkable dignity and restraint. The Dr. Jekyll to Kapoor’s Mr. Hyde, he provides an unassuming, solid foundation for Kapoor’s antics to flourish.
The milieu that Sharmaji Namkeen is set in is the same as Amit Sharma’s 2018 social comedy Badhaai Ho. The Sharmas are a middle-class Delhi family whose elder son—in this case, Suhail Nayyar—works a corporate job, wants to marry his colleague with an affluent upbringing, and is struggling to come to terms with his parents’ desires. However, in this film, it’s just the father the son is struggling with; Sharmaji’s wife is long gone. The similarity in the barebones structure and the treatment of the two films aside, it’s Sharmaji’s trials and travails that set this one apart.
But then how can a film be set in Delhi and not have Ayesha Raza and Sheeba Chaddha? Thankfully, Sharmaji Namkeen also has Juhi Chawla playing a woman trying to rebuild her life and get over her husband’s death and deceit. It was a joy seeing her and Kapoor—who have worked on several films together before—reunite and create a few heart-warming moments in this one too. Also featuring Parmeet Sethi and Satish Kaushik in significant roles, Sharmaji Namkeen uses its protagonist’s love for cooking to share a simple message—no work is too small and no time too late. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Read other movie reviews by Sneha Bengani here