Bollywood comedy ‘Sharmaji Namkeen’ is late actor Rishi Kapoor’s final film after his death following a prolonged battle with cancer and his beloved co-star Juhi Chawla is yet to gain closure.
The two have shared a rich history and have acted in several blockbusters including ‘Bol Radha Bol’, ‘Eena Meena Deeka’ and the more recent ‘Luck By Chance’.
“How strange life is ... I remember laughing and rolling onto the floor while seeing his scenes and then to know that he’s no more, it reminds you about how unpredictable life is,” said Chawla in a Zoom interview with Gulf News ahead of her film’s release on Amazon Prime Video on March 31. She tells us that we will be able to see Kapoor in the cutest and quirkiest of avatars.
After Kapoor’s death in April 2020, seasoned actor Paresh Rawal was asked to step into Kapoor’s role and complete the film. Kapoor’s portions have all been retained and the remaining bits were shot with Rawal.
“Even when Chintooji [Kapoor’s nickname among family and peers] wasn’t unwell, Ranbir [his actor-son] told me that his dad kept saying he wanted to complete ‘Sharmaji Namkeen’ because it was such a lovely film and he was already halfway through it … And now that he is gone, it makes you look back on our journey with a mixture of happiness and sadness,” said Chawla. Kapoor was equally gutted that he couldn’t complete the film due to his advancing illness.
In the family entertainer ‘Sharmaji Namkeen’, directed by Hitesh Bhatia, Kapoor plays the titular role of a retired gentleman who’s bored out of his wits at his pensioner existence and is itching to be enterprising and relevant again. Much to his grown-up children’s dismay, their restless father refuses to let the world slide by in the sunset years of his life and often comes up business ideas that may help him enliven his soulless suburban existence. One such enterprising idea was to be a ‘call-home-a-chef’. Chawla plays one of his most lucrative clients when she enlists his culinary services for her kitty parties at home.
“The trailer itself brings a smile to your face and warms you. It’s set in a real cute, real world. It’s a heartwarming film about ordinary people and their little issues. It sparkles with humour. We are all so quirky in there, just like life is,” said Chawla.
She remembers reading the script and marvelling at how the makers had sought Kapoor for the title role.
“When I was reading the script, I was also envious because he had such an amazing role. Those cute moments of grumpiness etc … I could almost hear him say those lines in a way that only Chintooji could. The role is so apt for him,” said Chawla.
In the film, Kapoor’s character starts off as a sore bear and in real life too, the veteran actor is notorious for being wicked. In several interviews in the past, this journalist can vouch that Kapoor was an odd ball celebrity to interview. He was famously temperamental and was known for his oscillating mood swings. But Chawla, who has idolised him since his breakout ‘Bobby’ role, claimed he was a softie at heart.
“Over the years, I have seen that he can be the most endearing personalities. But yes, he can be intimidating if you are see him for the first few times … I have seen him do very wicked little things to people he meets … He would intimidate people but he was also brilliant,” said Chawla. Apparently, first-time director Bhatia and she were at the receiving end of Kapoor’s good-natured ribbing on the sets.
“But he didn’t mean to mean … I remember him asking Hitesh why he allowed me to keep checking the monitor to see how his shots went. He used to shout at me and says that today’s artists are so insecure,” said Chawla with a laugh. He even gave her a dressing down for glancing into the mirror and went off on a tirade about her increasing vanity. But the key to getting along was to let those barbs slide, because underneath his scornful personality was a lovely human being. His good-natured pranks and his wicked sense of humour was his way of being affectionate towards them.
“If he wasn’t doing that, then I knew something was wrong that day … Over the years, I have found him to be a lovely person,” said Chawla.
Their first film together was ‘Bol Radha Bol’ in 1992 and Chawla remembered how she couldn’t believe that she was finally going to share the screen with one of her biggest idols from her teenage years. They went on to act in several Bollywood film in the next two decades, but their 2009 outing ‘Luck By Chance’ in which she played a jolly producer’s wife was their standout film.
“I have seen him over the years evolve as a person and as an actor. I remember watching ‘Bobby’ as a kid and how he had become a big hit. There was a Bobby explosion all over the world. Everything was Bobby-esque. I had Bobby clips, Bobby hairbands, Bobby frocks … From idolising him to then standing in front of a camera acting alongside him felt surreal … I can’t believe that I was a part of his last film of his life … There are just no words,” said Chawla, fighting hard for composure during this interaction.
While this film will always be that bittersweet milestone in Chawla’s career, she’s keen to showcase their range as actors. A dialogue that stands out is Chawla’s character reminding her favourite call-at-home-chef that families are precious even if they are warped.
“It’s such a slice — of-life film about families and how there are days when you smooth-sail with them and then there are days when you wonder what to do you with your children and why they are behind so badly! There was some wisdom in it,” said Chawla. The film is filled with such life-affirming moments and episodes. Her character of a Delhi-based woman whose lives revolves around her soirees and her girl gang also appeal to her.
“It was a little world that I had never entered. I have always said kitty parties is not for me … Some of my girlfriends may seem loud, but they also have little issues, a little heartbreak and perhaps that’s why they want to be a part of kitty party,” said Chawla. Even though Chawla was averse to the idea of women and their kitty parties, she never judged them and looked at her character with a mixture of adoration and affection.
“We are loud women and some of us may wear loud clothes or colour our hair crimson, but we are all heart,” said Chawla.
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‘Sharmaji Namkeen’ is out on Amazon Prime Video on March 31.