Two years ago, when Rishi Kapoor passed away, I called up his Do Dooni Chaar director Habib Faisal. Habib’s anecdotes about the actor unsurprisingly turned to food. On set, Habib recalled, Rishi would insinuate himself with the locals of Delhi, who’d supply him with home-cooked food—from Kashmiri delicacies to the best pindi chole. “Every day, before lunch time, there would be a naughty twinkle in his eye,” Habib remembered.
That twinkle reappears throughout Sharmaji Namkeen. His final posthumous release (on Amazon Prime Video), the film surrounds Rishi with a succession of home-tossed treats (bread pakodas, in this film, are served off the pan, not dunked in paper towel to drain the excessive oil).
Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Juhi Chawla, Suhail Nayyar, Taaruk Raina, Sheeba Chaddha, Satish Kaushik
Directed by: Hitesh Bhatia
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
The only twist is that BG Sharma—Rishi’s character, as well as Paresh Rawal’s—spends most of his time cooking, not eating. Recently retired, widowed, he tinkers in his tiny rectangular kitchen in his Delhi home. His two sons, office-going Rinku (Suhail Nayyar) and college student Vincy (Taaruk Raina), indulge their father as long as he doesn’t set shop outside. Rinku is especially irate. The thought of his father selling ‘chaat pakoda’ embarrasses him.
On a friend’s advice, Sharma reluctantly signs up to cook for a women’s kitty across town. He turns up in a suit—“I thought you were an income tax officer,” giggles the host. But they enjoy his cooking, and he gets a call back. Rinku, meanwhile, is planning to move out—he tries persuading his father to make a shift but fails. Suddenly, the film is full of secrets: Sharma’s burgeoning career as a private chef; Rinku’s impending departure; even Vincy’s struggles with his studies and dancing ambitions.
Sharmaji Namkeen is directed by Hitesh Bhatia and co-written by him and Supratik Sen. Together, they sketch out the sense of boredom and lack of enterprise that can descend in one’s retirement. It’s all the more crushing for Sharma, who still had a few more years to go but was made to quit. There is a touch of melancholy to the way he recounts his day’s chores, as though convincing himself he’s been busy. His friendship with Veena (Juhi Chawla)—a boutique-running socialite—gives the inkling of a love track. Slowly, though, he finds a deeper connection with the kitty group; they, like him, have had to carve out a freedom amid family and social compulsions, and clutch firmly to it.
Paresh, who stepped in to complete the film, is quietly effective. Instead of matching himself to prior scenes, the actor dials his performance down. This allows us to savour each moment Rishi is on screen. The latter’s cheeriness is accentuated by the former’s restraint. It’s a charmingly persuasive solution to one of cinema’s lasting problems (it works even without Ranbir Kapoor in an introductory video). Editor Bodhaditya Banerjee does a clean job of stitching it all together, helped by Sneha Khanwelkar’s uproarious (and very self-regarding) soundtrack.
The closing montage isn’t a supercut of Rishi performances, as I first expected. All we get is a series of bloopers and outtakes, heartily set to ‘Mere Umar Ke Naujawano’. The legendary actor kneads dough in the kitchen, shaking his hips. He blinks and smiles at the camera. He calls his own cuts. Rishi Kapoor loved his job—with an eye on the lunch break.