Sharmaji Namkeen And The Need To Be Needed, Film Companion

It is not possible to objectively talk about an actor’s last piece of work, especially if the actor was as beloved by the masses as Rishi Kapoor was. So, if you’re looking for a purely objective take on the art of filmmaking deployed in making that film, do not read further for you will be disappointed. This is my heartfelt ode to the late actor’s last great performance, in which he played a character, versions of which I am sure most of us have known and loved in our lifetimes.

Sharmaji Namkeen is a simple story about a middle-class North Indian man who is struggling to come to terms with his early retirement. It is not the lack of a source of income that bothers him, he has an untouched retirement pension and a son with a cushy corporate job to fall back on. But rather, it is the lack of being needed anywhere that eats away at him. And he goes about his days in an irritable mood, looking for creative ways to keep himself occupied, like fixing the neighbour’s water tank’s alarm unsolicited. Because of his reputation as a good cook, his friend recommends him to cater at a “mata ki chowki” and Sharma ji begrudgingly agrees only to find out that it was a kitty party for a gang of wealthy West and South Delhi women. And that leads to a whole world of drama, played by very real, relatable characters on screen, most of whom are lonely and seeking a world where they can be accepted as they are, and have a definite purpose in their days.

While watching this movie, I felt like I was watching my own father represented on screen. The central conflict between the father and son here, and in my own household during the days of lockdown was that between our generation which craves nothing more than an infinite holiday with enough financial security, to just Netflix and chill and travel our days away, and our parent’s generation, who cannot imagine a worse hell than to wake up in the morning and find themselves without any meaningful occupation for the day. Neither side is wrong, they just belong to very different schools of thought. The sons here aren’t portrayed in some Baghban-esque fashion (a movie which is very comically referenced here), but in a very normal way. They care about the wellbeing of their father and love him, but cannot understand the reason behind his irritability or loneliness and are embarrassed by his little shenanigans. The father, on the other hand, cannot accept that he is not needed to guide or help them anymore, and constantly feels left out of their lives.

 

Rishi Kapoor, having played a middle-class middle-aged dad plenty of times towards the end of his career, perfectly grasps the little nuances and mannerisms that make this character so endearing and relatable. Little details, like the way he holds the phone with one hand while carefully scrolling the screen with the index finger of the other, and his gullible addiction to Facebook and WhatsApp forwards, go a long way to make him very relatable. A word of appreciation for Paresh Rawal too, who does an equally good job, and does not try to imitate Rishi Kapoor’s version of this character but performs his own take. Perhaps that is why the transition between scenes is so seamless.

On the other side, there are the women comprising the kitty party who form unlikely but delightful friends for Sharmaji. It was a fresh change of pace to see a group of housewives from traditional households not represented in a typical TV soap fashion – either seated on pedestals of conservative moralities or indulging in every form of sin known to civilised society, clawing to show their adversary (often another woman) their rightful place. No, these are simply individuals who want some form of agency over their own lives, and these parties are their own little world where they can just be, and have fun while fiercely supporting each other. Juhi Chawla is breezy as a middle-aged widow who becomes Sharma’s closest friend and confidante and forms a wholesome friendship with him.

Perhaps these women and Sharmaji aren’t an unlikely pair after all. These women are also searching for some time during the day that isn’t dictated by the needs of their husbands, children, or in-laws, that can be their own space and purpose. Maybe a lot of them feel lonely too, Their parties are also often dismissed, and attract a fair amount of ridicule, just as Sharmaji’s act of cooking for them and engaging in a game of dumb charades does.  So they bond over mutual acceptance. It is adorable to see his face beaming with pride when he learns the effect his cooking has on the ladies, to learn that he is appreciated for something other than paying the bills of the house. It is equally adorable to see the ladies find a man who they can confide in, make a part of their spicy Whatsapp circles, and have fun with, without having to worry about him being a creep straight out of a crime show.

While taking in the many brilliant moments in this film that make you chuckle or laugh or swoon, there is also a sense of sadness that you will never get to see Rishi Kapoor in this space again. I remember, just before his demise, it was announced he would be starring in the Hindi remake of the Hollywood film, The Intern and I was really excited about his take on the lovely role essayed by Robert De Niro. He eventually had to be recast and it was heartbreaking to realise that. But this movie fills that void, and then some. It is very similar to The Intern, a sweet tale of a retired man who joined a new-age startup as an intern to pass his time and ended up being a transformative presence in the life of its workaholic young founder, Jules. This movie is a perfect swan song for the actor who has been loved by older and newer generations alike, for his effortless charm, boisterous personality, and larger-than-life image. The closing shots of the movie are the blooper reels featuring Rishi Kapoor, set to the voice of Kishore Kumar’s Om Shaanti Om. And you are left a little misty-eyed, to see him bowing out, dedicatedly trying to finish this last piece before his clock ran out.

Sharmaji Namkeen And The Need To Be Needed, Film Companion

Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.

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