No Spice, No Sizzle:
Rating: 1-1/2 stars:
A Ramesh Sippy film coming out after 25 years—his last film Zamana Deewana released in 1995—and turning out to be such a dud, is so disappointing. Shimla Mirchi was completed a while ago, and found no buyers; it would perhaps have been a kindness to the filmmaker if it had remained in the cans, or gone straight to a home viewing platform.
Based on the 2010 French film Beautiful Lies (duly credited), Sippy’s film had all the elements for a likable romcom, but turns out to be an exasperating watch.
Avinash (Rajkummar Rao) is super accomplished in every way, but is unable to find a suitable girl because he stumbles over the ‘love’ word. While on holiday in Shimla, with a gaggle of female relatives urging him to marry, he falls—at first sight—for Naina (Rakul Preet Singh). To get close to her, he starts working in her café and makes himself indispensable. Since he can’t verbally communicate his feelings to her, he writes her a love letter and signs it ‘secret admirer.’
Naina has problems of her own—mainly her mother Rukmini (Hema Malini), pining for her husband Tilak (Kanwaljeet Singh), who has left her for a much younger woman. To get her out of depression, Naina passes on the letter to her mother, who goes through an instant transformation at the idea of a new romance, when just few scenes back she was crawling through Tilak’s garden to peer through his window. The letter leads to the film’s only charming scene in which she approaches a man (Sippy doing a Hitchcock) sitting on a bench and writing, to ask if he wrote it to her.
Rukmini comes to believe that Avinash’s letter was meant for her, and for some convoluted reason, Naina wants him to pretend to be in love with her mother.
At a time when mainstream cinema is looking at complicated relationships, the idea of an older woman attracted to a young man is so repugnant, that Avinash arrives drunk on a date with her to get through the evening. However, it is perfectly acceptable for 60-plus Tilak to consort with a 27-year-old woman, and also dump the care of his elderly mother on to the discarded wife. Avinash has a buddy who changes girlfriends every other day, and offers one of them to his friend, and this odious behavior is supposed to be funny!
Rajkummar Rao and Rakul Preet Singh’s tepid performances could be explained away as newbie stumbles (both must have been raw when they signed this film), but Hema Malini’s indifference is baffling; she could have made something of the role even in a badly-written film. As it is, so few roles come up for actresses over sixty.
Finally, one can only wonder what Ramesh Sippy was thinking when he decided to make this film, about which the best thing is the title.