Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Hema Malini’s on-the-road campaign in Mathura yielded some of the best memes of the year. Among them, my favourite, was Malini crouching under a haystack, held by an old frail lady. Shimla Mirchi is the cinematic version of that meme, where Malini is the film and the old lady is the script.
Ramesh Sippy’s latest film, made 25 years after his previous film, was lying in cold storage for over five years, and finally has found distribution. There’s an inevitable fear that the film and the direction would appear dated, and the results don’t disappoint. Although the film is shot in close frames and loud colours, which are meant for television viewing, and has arbitrary cuts passed off as editing, the film’s most anachronistic elements are its script, screenplay and acting. The old-fashioned telling could have worked as a throwback or homage to the traditional Bollywood comedy of errors or love-at-first-sight romance but Shimla Mirchi , with its over-the-top narrative clichés, would still be counted among the most avoidable films, even if it were to release in the 90s.
- Director: Ramesh Sippy
- Cast: Hema Malini, Rajkummar Rao, Rakul Preet Singh and Shakti Kapoor
- Story line: Naina sends her admirer’s love letters to her mother to reignite her love life after separation from her father
Although, the storyline, on paper, is progressive. Rukmini (Malini) refuses to sign on divorce papers, despite her husband living-in with a 27-year-old girl, and creepily stalks him (including climbing a tree to look into his bedroom. Their daughter, Naina (Rakul Preet Singh) desperately wants her mother to move on, so she passes on the love letters written by her anonymous admirer Avinash (Rajkummar Rao) to her mother. Rukmini instantly falls in love with these letters and wants to date Rao, who is half her age. This supposedly funny plot is so flat that the most amusing part of the film is meta product placements of Kent water purifiers, which Malini endorses in real life.
The veteran actor-cum-politician is plain embarrassing in the film. After playing the dejected wife in the first half, she has to transform into a seductive cougar in the second. Her idea of looking young is to wear ghungroos and wear sleeveless blouses with her sarees. The awkwardness is so palpable that it almost overshadows how extra Singh is in this film. Singh’s character is supposed to be a firebrand but her reactions are like she’s experiencing drug withdrawal symptoms. At one point, her reaction to a cheating contractor at her cafe is to break the chandelier. As for Rao, it’s heartening to see that he has come a long way today from Shimla Mirchi .
The film’s only saving grace is that as tormenting as the comedy is, it never enters the mawkish territory, which it hints at right from the start. It ends with a lovely cameo of an actor as a throwback to Sholay (1975). You can maybe fast forward to see that when it drops on OTT platforms, which seems to be the natural home for all defrosted and homeless Bollywood films, struggling to find distributors.