It was meant to be a comedy starring Rishi Kapoor in a role that played on his real-life reputation as a gourmand. Sharmaji Namkeen was halfway through production when Kapoor died from cancer on April 30, 2020. The film’s makers found an innovative way around the problem – they added Paresh Rawal to the cast and offered two Sharmajis for the price of one.
Director Hitesh Bhatia, who is also credited with the story idea, has written Sharmaji Namkeen with Supratik Sen. Kapoor/Rawal are both Sharma, who has been turfed out of his job and who has already run out of ways to stave off boredom. Sharma’s culinary brilliance makes him the unlikely caterer-in-chief to a riotous kitty party group. Among its members is Veena (Juhi Chawla), who makes Sharma’s heart beat a bit faster.
The situational humour is tinged with the poignancy of an elderly man attempting to reinvent himself on his own terms. Despite several strongly written and performed individual scenes, the Amazon Prime Video release can’t escape the feeling of an improvised meal intended as mutton biryani but instead served as a vegetarian dish. The 120-minute film manages to be both very funny and very silly, fleet-footed and sluggish.
Some of the shambolic humour flows from Sharma’s concealment of his new vocation from his older son Rinku (Suhail Nayyar), who is thinking of marrying his girlfriend Urmi (Isha Talwar), and the college-going younger son Vincy (Taaruk Raina). The extended cast, which includes Satish Kaushik as Sharma’s friend, Ayesha Raza and Sheeba Chadha as Veena’s co-revellers, and Parmeet Sethi as a dapper politician, is game for more than the film can offer.
Sharmaji Namkeen offers no explanation for one person being played by two actors. Paresh Rawal is like the raw potato that evens out the flavour of Sharma’s excessively salted black gram daal – part of the salvage job forced on the makers for no fault of theirs.
Rawal’s brief was clearly to allow the movie to be completed rather than go into an even more interesting narrative direction: two performers interpreting the same character in different ways, leading to conflicting outcomes.
The contrast between the two men is mild, but telling too. If Kapoor’s Sharma is cutely grumpy, Rawal’s Sharma is irritable. The question of whether Veena would have fallen for Rawal’s irascible Sharma over Kapoor’s sweater-clad and twinkly-eyed charmer remains unresolved. The end credits montage of Kapoor’s outtakes from the shoot is yet another reminder of what was intended and what was finally completed.