Sharmaji Namkeen director Hitesh Bhatia called the film a “roller coaster ride” – from happy moments to the heartbreaking news of Rishi Kapoor’s death, the film saw every situation imaginable. “When Chintu ji died, at some point the thought that this film is over and can’t be finished just stared at me. There was simply no precedent for completing this film. So, from that thought to the completion of the film and today, it’s about to be released, it’s honestly been a dream come true. Those things just don’t happen,” Bhatia told indianexpress.com.
The director recalled that putting the film together after Rishi Kapoor’s death was emotional and “very difficult”. However, it was Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani who gave it the strength and hope that this film will live to see its release day.
“Days after Rishi Kapoor passed away, Farhan and Ritesh called me and told me not to worry. They said, ‘We’re going to finish the film. We will publish it. ‘ But I thought he (Rishi Kapoor) is no more. In my head the movie was just finished because how are you going to finish this movie when it’s gone? But they gave me the strength that we will find out. So we tried a lot of things from his son Ranbir Kapoor, who stepped into the role to enlist the help of VFX and ended up casting Paresh Rawal for the role. It took me a long time to believe that we could finish this film,” he said, adding that everyone just came together with a “very different energy.”
“We missed Chintu ji, but we didn’t want his last film to go away. As a director and writer, this film is very close to my heart. But the beauty was in the fact that everyone, from the producer to the technician, came together to make this film happen, which became my strength,” he added.
When asked if there was ever an opportunity to redo the film from scratch, Hitesh replied, “If we cast another actor and redo the whole film, it won’t be Rishi Kapoor’s last film.” They recognized the need staying true to the film led them to think of other ideas. They revealed that at some point they also thought about roping Ranbir Kapoor to follow in Rishi Kapoor’s footsteps.
“This film has a life of its own. We wanted to stay true to what we started. There was an emotional commitment to ourselves, Ranbir Kapoor and Neetu Kapoor. Ranbir, Farhan and Ritesh were very aware that this was Chintu ji’s last film, so the idea of Ranbir donning a prosthetic and coming on board to finish the film was considered first. We seriously considered that, but it got nowhere,” Hitesh said.
Eventually, Paresh Rawal joined the team to complete the film. According to the director, he was on board in 10-15 minutes after being offered the film.
“When Pareshji came on board, it was more about him than me. As an actor it’s a very difficult task because it’s not something he or any of us have done before. You don’t know if any of this will ever make sense or look good. But Pareshji decided early on that he believed in the script and really liked it. It also came from an emotional point that it was Chintu Ji’s last film. Within 10-15 minutes he was on the board. Again, working with him was pure joy. He has made the character his own. There were no guidelines for him on how to go about it, but it all worked out well in the end,” revealed Hitesh.
As the conversation continued, Hitesh recalled the last scene of Rishi Kapoor. “The last scene we shot with Chintu ji was a kulfi scene. And it’s such an amazing sequence to remember.” Speaking about it, Hitesh said he was ok with the shot and wanted to finish it, but Rishi Kapoor insisted on doing his close-up.
“The last shot he ever took, I didn’t want to do a close-up. I thought, ‘We don’t need the close-up. We’re done with the scene. Let’s wrap it up. ‘ Chintu ji, who never insists, wanted me to do the close-up as he believed it would enrich the scene. The light went bad. So they asked the DOP to do the close-up no matter what. And finally, we took the shot not knowing it would be the last shot of his life,” Hitesh choked as he recalled the scene.
Sharmaji Namkeen is scheduled to be released on Amazon Prime Video on March 31, but Rishi Kapoor’s family members – Ranbir Kapoor, Neetu Kapoor and Riddhima Kapoor – watched the film at a special screening that was held in Mumbai.
“They were very emotional,” said the director, adding, “When we first started working with Pareshji on the film, we had no idea how the film was going to develop. Until you see the film in its entirety, you don’t know if it works or makes sense. In that way, we had a responsibility to make a film that was decent and respectable. We didn’t want it to be an experiment that failed. With that in mind, I was a little worried about how the family will feel and how the film will ultimately turn out. But they all really loved it, especially Ranbir and Neetu ji. Everyone was very emotional to see him on screen for the last time.”
The director said he was fortunate that both Juhi Chawla and Rishi Kapoor had agreed to star in Sharmaji Namkeen. “The role needed is the skill they bring. I would have done anything to get her to say yes to the film. I was just lucky that they both liked the script and loved it,” he said, describing the film as “a family entertainer,” which was “a tribute to him, indeed.”
“When you see the film, you will know that despite the hurdles and difficulties, everyone came together to complete this film because of him. It is indeed a bespoke role written for him. Everyone I know knew, without me saying so, that the script was his,” he concluded.