Film: Shiv Shastri Balboa
Cast: Anupam Kher, Neena Gupta, Jugal Hansraj, Nargis Fakhri, Sharib Hashmi
Director: Ajayan Venugopalan
Rating: 3 Moons
Anupam Kher and Neena Gupta starrer Shiv Shastri Balboa has bowed into theatres with very less fanfare but turns out to be quite an entertaining and endearing watch. The film has a clear-cut connection with Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky franchise which is depicted in its title as well as the titular protagonist’s love for the films who swears by the principles and philosophies outlined in the films. However, do not get mislaid by the title or the posters of the film as Shiv Shastri Balboa is not a movie on boxing, instead it is a sweet comedy drama that makes a case for senior citizens to live life with dignity and enthusiasm, after all retirement need not mean saying goodbye to living life with zest and adhering to societal stereotypes on how oldies should behave.
Anupam Kher plays the titular character of Shiv Shankar Shastri, a retired bank employee who is obsessed with Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky, so much so that he not only drops inspirational dialogues from the film at the drop of a hat but has also launched a boxing club in his colony without stepping inside the ring, that has managed to produce champions. The film opens with Shastri deciding to bid adieu to his life in India and move to the US to live with his son Rahul (Jugal Hansraj) and his family. He tries to teach his Rocky philosophy to his grandsons and has only one dream of going to Philadelphia and shooting a video on the ‘Rocky Steps’ for an interview on his favourite news anchor Rajat Sharma's show. His dream does not figure into the scheme of things for his son, who calls it their last priority.
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Shastri is not ill-treated at home or has any misgivings against his son or daughter-in-law but it is the loneliness and idleness of his new life that gets to him. Missing the familiar hustle-and-bustle of Indian neighbourhood, Shastri takes off for Philadelphia in the spur of the moment without informing his family and accompanied by the cute family pug (who gets his own very interesting and hilarious thought bubbles). Shastri’s madadventure starts as soon as he embarks on his journey and decides to help an Hyderabadi househelp Elsa (Neena Gupta) return to India to her darling granddaughter and escape her Indian employers who have kept her enslaved for eight years.
The two senior citizens embark on a misadventure where everything goes wrong from the word go but have a thrilling experience of a lifetime. When Elsa’s bag gets stolen with her passport and money in it, Shastri is convinced that they can find a kindred Indian soul who will help them out. His hunch proves right and they land up at the gas station and convenience store run by Cinnamon Singh (Sharib Hashmi), who not only offers them jobs but also gives them a place to stay till Elsa can get her passport, albeit reluctantly. However, he also takes their help and makes them play his fake parents so that they can meet his girlfriend Siya’s (Nargis Fakhri) family.
The film outlines some truly hilarious subplots like Shastri’s run in with a police officer when he is caught urinating in the open. There is racism, bullying and a bit of violence but also an interesting encounter with the great proverbial American biker gang that may present a tough exterior but are softies at heart. However, the real villains here in the film are the Indian couple who enslaves Elsa.
Anupam Kher as Shiv Shastri leads the film from the front and shoulders it with aplomb. He portrays his role with great finesse and owns every scene of his, even when he is having an exasperating conversation with the family’s pug. Anupam’s imitation of Stallone is on point too. He is charming in his portrayal as he understands the Rocky philosophies that he mouths and the true meaning of life a little later. His camaraderie with Neena Gupta is bang on and their relationship is within the confine of true friendship.
Neena Gupta as the vodka guzzling househelp is in great form. She is endearing, extraordinary and excellent in her portrayal and delivers a fabulous performance. Sharib Hashmi as Cinnamon Singh who hopes to be a bhangra-rapper is the scene stealer. He is a hoot and exhibits his excellent acting chops alongside the veterans. Jugal Hansraj is also commendable as the NRI son who does not understand his father’s love for Rocky. Nargis Fakhri has little to do but impresses with her act.
Director Ajayan Venugopalan impresses with his first feature film by keeping it simple, lucid and clear. Not once does he take away or wavers in the premise that Shiv Shastri Balboa is about Shastri and Elsa being on an inadvertent adventure that life throws at them in their prime and teaches that it's never too old to reinvent yourself. Shiv Shastri Balboa is a good and entertaining watch that can be seen with the entire family in tow, even though it does grapple a bit with several subplots.
PeepingMoon.com gives Shiv Shastri Balboa, 3 Moons.