Shiv Shastri Balboa is a sweet dramedy that makes a case for letting seniors live with dignity, observes Deepa Gahlot.
Shiv Shastri Balboa, a film sprung into the theatres without any pre-release buzz, turns out to be a pleasant surprise.
Very few would immediately get the Rocky connection, but the film -- produced by Anupam Kher, and written and directed by Ajayan Venugopalan -- is a sweet dramedy that makes a case for letting seniors live with dignity.
Retired bank employee Shiv Shastri (Kher) is so obsessed with Rocky (the Sylvester Stallone-starrer) that he not just drops inspirational dialogue from the film, but has even launched a boxing club in his colony, that has miraculously produced champions.
When the film opens, he has decided to pack up and move to the US to live with his son Rahul (Jugal Hansraj) and his family.
He is treated with love and kindness -- no evil daughter-in-law, nasty kids cliché -- but there is the huge problem of loneliness.
Used to the neighbourly bustle in India, he finds the days stretching in idleness. He hopes to visit the Rocky Steps in Philadelphia, but the son has no time to accompany him.
Then he runs into Elsa (Neena Gupta), the housekeeper of an Indian family, who has in effect, been enslaved by her employers for eight years.
She wants to return home to see her granddaughter, and asks Shastri for help.
On a whim, he decides to accompany her on the bus ride to New York, the cute family pug (who gets his own thoughts bubbles) insists on coming along.
The two clueless seniors embark on an adventure of a lifetime, that begins with Elsa's handbag getting snatched, with her money and passport in it.
Shastri is certain that if they can find an Indian in the strange place where they find themselves, they will get help, and his hunch turns out to be right.
The land up at the gas station and convenience store run by Cinnamon Singh (Sharib Hashmi), who reluctantly gives them jobs and a tiny home till Elsa can get a duplicate passport.
Rahul is shocked to see his father stacking shelves, but for Shastri, the feeling of being free and unencumbered by expectations of how a senior should behave, is priceless.
There is racism and hints of violence, but also an encounter with the great American symbol of non-conformism -- the biker gang.
The cruelty Shastri and Elsa face is not the 'go back' howls from white goons, but from Elsa's employers.
The film often stretches plausibility but retains its gentle humour and a remarkable lack of melodrama.
The friendship that develops between between Shastri and Elsa is intimate yet decorous.
Cinnamon Singh, who hopes to be a bhangra-rapper, is a hoot.
The incongruity of Elsa's extensive wardrobe of pretty handloom saris notwithstanding, Neena Gupta delivers another fabulous performance as the Hyderabadi Elsa, who, with a couple of pegs down the hatch, can withstand anything life throws at her.
Anupam Kher, as the diffident Shastri, who gets the true meaning of life rather late in the day, turns on the charm.
Sharib Hashmi and Jugal Hansraj (always good to see the actor, who had to struggle to get over his Masoom Moppet image) easily slide into their parts.
This is Ajayan Venogopalan's first feature film, and he wisely decided to keep it simple and focus on the emotions.
He was helped by a seasoned cast, but in the end, it is the feel-good warmth that suffuses the film and makes it a worth a watch.