Today, September 26, 2012, would have been Dev Anand’s 89th birthday. To commemorate that occasion, I decided it was time to watch a film that had been sitting in my to-watch pile for nearly a year. Just looking at the cast and crew—Dev Anand, Madhubala, Lalita Pawar, Madan Mohan, Rajinder Krishan—and listening to some of the songs from the film made my mouth water.
Now I’m wishing I’d rewatched a Dev Anand film I already knew and loved (Kaala Paani, perhaps?), because Sharaabi turned out to be a damp squib. Okay, let’s forget the damp. Sodden through and through. Dripping wet.
Actually, sometime during the course of the film (and pretty early on, too, I must admit) I began thinking what a perfect kiddie-style picture book this one would’ve made. You know, the drool-proof ones which are meant (or were meant, in my long-ago childhood) to teach toddlers the basics of language? Well, if Sharaabi were made into a picture book [which I doubt, considering the extent to which it’s steeped in liquor], it would go something like this:
This is Keshav. See Keshav drink.
This is Kamla. See Kamla smile.
Kamla loves Keshav. Keshav loves Kamla.
Keshav also loves liquor.
This is Keshav’s mother.
Anyway. You get my drift. Keshav (Dev Anand) starts off the film with pretty much the entire scene already set: he’s already in love with the lovely Kamla (Madhubala), who is also already in love with him. And Keshav is also already a drunk, totally devoted to his daaru.
Right at the beginning of the film, Keshav’s father (whom we never see) cops it after a long illness. Keshav, not the epitome of the dutiful son, is away drinking. By the time Keshav’s weeping mum (Lalita Pawar) drags him home, the father’s dead…
…and Keshav’s mum, after the cremation, packs up her belongings and takes Keshav’s little sister Munni (Daisy Irani) in tow, getting ready to leave. Keshav begs them to stay, and makes many promises never to drink again. It takes a lot of dialogue, most of it terribly melodramatic, before Ma forgives him and agrees to stay.
As part of his reform plan, Keshav goes to meet Lakshmidas (Badriprasad), who used to be his father’s best friend. Lakshmidas lives in the neighbourhood and is relatively well-to-do; he deals in coal. Lakshmidas also happens to be Kamla’s father.
Lakshmidas knows of Keshav’s alcoholism [who couldn’t, in the neighbourhood, what with Keshav’s nightly serenades?] And, like a good, upright (and more importantly, sober) citizen, Lakshmidas sniffs at Keshav.
Though Lakshmidas and his old friend had agreed that Kamla and Keshav would marry as adults [why can’t these filmi parents refrain from deciding their children’s futures?]… Lakshmidas has now been getting cold feet.
However, Keshav convinces him that he (Keshav) is now in earnest and wants to turn over a new leaf. Lakshmidas therefore gives Keshav a job in his own business, and Keshav happily spends his days working his butt off. He’s so deeply engrossed in unloading and sorting and packing coal that Kamla, who’s been missing him, comes to meet him at work, and gets just as grimy as him.
This draws Lakshmidas’s disapproval. He tells both Kamla and Keshav, separately, that he doesn’t want them to meet at the coal depot. He admits that now that Keshav’s working hard and is on the wagon, he can be considered as a prospective son-in-law. But. Only after he continues to be on the wagon for a while (Lakshmidas doesn’t specify how long).
Meanwhile, Keshav seems to be winning the battle. His old drinking buddy, Shankar (Radhakrishna), tries now and then to coax Keshav into having a swig, but Keshav always manages to fend him off.
It’s not a roller-coaster ride, though, and one night Keshav ends up getting dreadful cramps in his tummy. [I’d have thought alcoholism would have led to liver problems, but Keshav consistently grabs the left side of his stomach—either he doesn’t know where his liver is, or something else is the matter]. His mother helps soothe him with some water, but both of them know what his body craves: liquor.
The next day, Keshav goes off to a local hakim to get an aniseed tonic (‘saunf ka arak’) for himself. The hakim doesn’t have an empty bottle in which to pour out the concoction; after much searching, however, he finds an old discarded bottle:
…and Keshav refuses to take it. Even the sight of a bottle that once housed liquor now distresses him. However, the hakim really doesn’t have anything else into which he can pour the tonic—so Keshav has no choice but to take it. He tucks the bottle into the carrier on his bicycle, and goes off for a rendezvous with Kamla (he sees her on the way, and abducts her—not that she puts up much of a fight).
They have a fun time together [having completely forgotten Lakshmidas’s diktat about not meeting], and when it’s finally time to leave, there’s a brief encounter between Keshav and a couple of drunks, who’ve been swigging from a bottle of rum—incidentally, the same brand as the bottle Keshav’s received from the hakim. The inevitable happens; unknown to him, Keshav ends up with the bottle of rum, while the drunks get the tonic.
That night, Keshav’s tummy ache begins again, and he reaches for the ‘tonic’—and, after one sip, realises what it is. He throws it away and runs out, into the rain. A passing Shankar tries to force a bottle of daaru down Keshav’s throat, but Keshav flings it away and breaks the bottle, leaving Shankar pretty depressed.
Unfortunately, though, the damage has already been done. Keshav’s mother, coming into his empty room, sees the shattered bottle of rum lying there, and jumps to the obvious conclusion: her son has gone back to his evil ways.
See Ma cry. See Ma berate Keshav. See Ma tell Keshav that she wish she’d never had a son.
And that little incident snowballs fantastically. Keshav, for no fault of his own, is accused by all—including Kamla and her father—of having slid back into drinking all over again. Nobody listens to his pleas of innocence. Lakshmidas, thoroughly disillusioned, breaks off his daughter’s engagement with Keshav, and Kamla, even though she loves Keshav, feels he’s betrayed her.
See Keshav drink. See Keshav rave. See Keshav repent. And back again, the same cycle repeated over and over.
Sharaabi could have been a good film. After all, it had a great cast; it had wonderful music—it even had the potential to be an interesting insight into a man’s struggle against alcoholism. Even as I was watching it, I could imagine this being a thought-provoking and touching short story: a man tries to break loose from the fetters of his alcoholism, even succeeds—and then slips back because of a chance mishap, coupled with the contempt of those he loves, but who cannot believe that he did not drink intentionally.
Unfortunately, what works as a short story may not necessarily work as a full-length film. Sharaabi ends up being tedious and repetitive, with too much of the same “I didn’t drink!”—“You have betrayed my trust in you!”—“No, I haven’t!”—“Yes, you have!” business going on. Between Keshav and Kamla, Keshav and his mother, Keshav and Lakshmidas (thankfully, the latter only for a while). Emotions run high and there’s much melodrama.
Handled with more subtlety, this might have been an interesting study in dipsomania. As it is, it’s a rather boring, slow-moving film that just goes through the roof at times when it comes to turning on the waterworks. Too many tears here, too much drink, too much rain.
What I liked about this film:
Dev Anand and Madhubala in the first half an hour or so of the film. This is when Keshav has just given up drinking, and there are some very sweet scenes of them together: romantic, playful, and just generally wonderful together.
The songs. Madan Mohan composed the music for Sharaabi, and though the songs (other than Kabhi na kabhi kahin na kahin) aren’t very well-known, they’re mostly pretty good. Kabhi na kabhi kahin na kahin is my favourite, but I also discovered the teasing Jaao ji jaao dekhe hain bade, Tum ho haseen kahaan ke, and another great daaru song: Saawan ke mahine mein ik aag-si seene mein.
What I didn’t like:
Need I say more? Read the last couple of paragraphs of the synopsis. Avoid Sharaabi if you don’t like melodrama, or if you like your films fast-paced and with plenty happening. This one, while it has the advantage of being fairly uncomplicated, does stretch things until the viewer is close to breaking point.
Rajrishi (who both wrote the story and the screenplay and directed the film) might have done better to have given the idea to someone more capable of doing justice to it.