Shiv Shastri Balboa review: Anupam Kher, Neena Gupta's warm film is a love letter to life
Shiv Shastri Balboa review: Anupam Kher and Neena Gupta anchor this warm tale about a retired man and a house help in US.
It’s the sheer delight of watching veteran artistes Anupam Kher and Neena Gupta on screen that alleviates a simplistic film like Shiv Shastri Balboa and makes it engaging. A comedy at the outset, the film eventually touches upon various subjects — some touch your heart, while others get you thinking about life in general. Written and directed by Ajayan Venugopalan, Shiv Shastri Balboa is neither overtly hilarious nor extremely grim. It strikes just the right balance to evoke a variety of emotions. At some point, you might feel the film is about to give a serious message or turn into a social commentary on the kind of lives Indians lead abroad, but it remains a lighter take on life after retirement and how you can take charge of it at any age and feel alive, again.
The story begins with Shiv Shankar Shastri (Anupam Kher), a diehard fan of 1976 film Rocky that starred Sylvester Stallone as the boxer Rocky Balboa. He isn’t a boxer but has trained several boxers who brought laurels for the country. Now a retiree, he moves to the USA to live with his son Rahul (Jugal Hansraj), his wife, two young sons and a dog named Casper. While slowly getting accustomed to the busy city life abroad, his paths cross with Elsa Zachariah (Neena Gupta) and he promises to reunite her with her family in India. And as fate would have it, the two end up on an unexpected road trip through the American heartland, ultimately embarking on a journey of self-love and rediscovering yourself. Along the journey, Shastri and Elsa also meet Cinnamon Singh (Sharib Hashmi) and Siya (Nagris Fakhri), who play a crucial part in making them reach their destination. But things go downhill when Elsa becomes ‘wanted’ by law and lands behind bars. How Shastri pulls all strings he possibly can to set her free and also realise his own dream is what the film covers in the second half.
Interestingly, Kher’s last release, Uunchai also spoke of how a person is never too old to reinvent themselves. And in this one, too, he takes on challenges. Be it working at a petrol station or riding Harley Davidson bikes with a tattooed gang, Kher keeps his swag on while doing both. And he is as loving as it gets when he’s with grandsons, narrating them the story of Rocky and surprised that their father, Rahul never got them to watch the film. It’s kind of sweet how Shiv Shastri leaves no opportunity to narrate the courageous story of Rocky be it to his grandsons or a stranger, Elsa, that he meets at the bus stop while dropping his son to the school.
The camaraderie between the terrified-of-dogs protagonist Shastri ji who gradually develops a friendly bond with Casper, is undoubtedly the highlight of the film. I loved the portions between Shastri and Casper, especially when each time a speech bubble pops up on screen telling us what the dog is thinking.
At 132 minutes, Shiv Shastri Balboa gets a tad stretched in places but soon resumes pace and the story moves forward. The story is simple without sounding preachy. Some of the lines from Kher such as “The bigger risk a person can take is to do nothing” or “Sometimes, you have to make-believe things to believe in yourself”, serve as great life lessons. Overall, the writing could have been way better in terms of how the story unfolds, but I think the makers stuck to a simplistic narrative and didn’t risk much. A few portions like the track around the biker gang felt a bit abrupt and rushed into. I would have loved to see them being a bit more involved in Shiv Shastri’s journey.
Neena Gupta as a house help in an Indo-American family is quite a brave character to play. We’re told she’s originally from Hyderabad and that’s the reason you’d see her with a put-on accent throughout the film, which I found a bit over-the-top and distracting. The only funny bit is maybe that she can’t pronounce Shastri and keeps addressing to Kher’s character as Shastra Ji. Sharib Hashmi as the funny man is a clever casting and his comic timing is on-point. He is never overpowering the protagonist’s story yet managing to hold his ground in the limited scenes he gets. It’s extremely pleasant to watch Jugal Hansraj back on the big screen after so long, portraying an almost full-fledged role. He’s charming and has a great screen presence. As he’s plays an NRI, his American accent aptly fits the character. I loved the two boys who play his sons and their scenes with Kher look so endearing and move you.
Shiv Shastri Balboa is sweet, innocent and an endearing story about love, life and learnings. While the film has its heart at the right place, watch it for some relatable performances from Kher and Gupta that would make you want to rediscover life.