By Sneha Jaiswal (Twitter | Instagram)

When Amazon Prime first dropped the trailer for the 2022 film ‘Sharmaji Namkeen’, Rishi Kapoor fans were excited to see their beloved actor one last time – as a 58-year-old trying to adjust to retired life. Director Hitesh Bhatia and team decided to keep the parts with Kapoor and had Paresh Rawal fill in the rest as the titular protagonist. Honestly, I was quite skeptical about watching two different famous actors play the same role…

As expected, it was a little unsettling to watch both Rishi Kapoor and Paresh Rawal being switched in the same role. However, the confusing experience lasts for just the first fifteen minutes of the film. The story soon seamlessly moves forward, and despite their distinct personalities/acting styles, Rawal-Kapoor’s Sharmaji incredibly become one. You cannot pick one over the other. It’s a gamble that has paid off!

Sharmaji is a widower who isn’t happy about retiring, while his sons aren’t amused by his varied attempts to keep busy. While we are used to seeing generational divides onscreen, it’s usually the parents looking down on unconventional choices of their kids; in ‘Sharmaji Namkeen’ it’s ironically the younger sons who are averse to their dad trying out new things. They heartlessly shoot-down his plan to open a ‘chaat shop’. So instead of putting his foot down or fighting it out with his sons, Sharmaji simply starts off a secret side-hustle as a ‘home chef’ for a gang of well-off ladies. What’s going to happen when the boys find our their father is cooking for kitty parties? The conflict might not be dramatic, but makes for a joyous comedy to watch with the family.

From his thumkas to the ‘Baby Doll’ song, sad pouts over things when they don’t work out, to sheer childish delight over food, Rishi Kapoor is charmingly adorable as the lead. Paresh Rawal is just as endearing, almost magically making viewers forget he is a completely different man! Juhi Chawla plays independent businesswoman Mrs Manchanda, who strikes a warm empathetic friendship with Sharmaji; her camaraderie with both actors was a delight to watch. Same goes for Satish Kaushik, who keeps giving zany ideas to his friend and is always there to share a drink when Sharmaji is down.

Suhail Nayyar, who plays Sharmaji’s elder son Rinku, holds his own against seasoned actors and pulls off his mildly grey character with ease. A parallel sub-plot about Rinku trying to start a new life with his partner compliments the primary story quite well, even though his character is a confusing contradiction of sorts. Also, how underrated is Sheeba Chaddha in brief cameos in all sorts of films? In-fact, a lot of other familiar faces make short and sweet appearances as different Dilli-wallahs, adding to the colorful shades of Delhi we get to experience.

I love how Bollywood makers have finally been getting realistic with depicting middle-class homes. Sharmaji lives in a chaotic house, with a lot of things that scream 90s, and his reluctance to let go off the place or consider a revamp, will be all too relatable to any Indian who has been trying to (with no success) convince their parents to modernize stuff around their place. His humble flat is juxtaposed well with fancy houses equipped with modular open kitchens owned by those he works for.

The plot is paced well, with lively background music and a lot of comedic moments. There are no jarring twists, no emotional exploitation to make the viewer break into tears. On the contrary, the climax is low-key hilarious, with an absurdly funny coming-together of all main characters at one place (this could’ve been called ‘Jalsa’ actually). And even though things get a little predictable, the ending scene was open-ended and light.

Like its title, ‘Sharmaji Namkeen’ is a crisply made film, exploring life after retirement. It’s a demographic that is often ignored, so the theme of a retiree finding his feet in a world that at first seems to have no need of him, makes for a breezy watch. The makers cleverly weave in how social media isn’t just a Gen Y/Gen Z obsession, but pervades the lives of much older folks too. And amid everything the story tries to tell, one message stands out best – that one can make lifelong friends even after 60.

It’s a 8/10 from me.

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