India has never seen a bigger movie star than Amitabh Bachchan. His first movie performance was in Saath Hindustani released in 1969, which means, that this is his 50th year as a movie actor. To commemorate this auspicious moment. i intend to write a series of pieces on my favorite films of his. I start with Sharaabi, as its my Favorite film from 80’s, which is generally considered a dark period in both the history of Hindi cinema as well as in Bachchan’s career.
Sharaabi is my favorite Amitabh Bachchan film from the 80’s as well as one of my favorite Bachchan performances of all time . i admit, it isn’t much of a film. Its more like a wordy stage play.But therein lies its charm. Prakash Mehra, the director along with his screenwriters, have fashioned a very old fashioned screenplay which emphasizes on melodrama and dialogues. Bachchan had this to say about Mehra “He never bothered about the technical aspects of a film , he would just place the camera in one place and get on with his narration” .Sharaabi proves how truthful Bachchan’s observation about his regular collaborator is. they have made a lot of movies together before like Zanjeer, muqaddar ka sikander and Laawaris, which were all blockbusters. Mehra had a big hand in turning Bachchan into a megastar.The film is an adaptation of Hollywood film Arthur , where the lead character was played superbly by Dudley Moore . But the film is suitably indianised or Bachchanised to turn it into a perfect vehicle for Bachchan to showcase his talent for dialogue delivery, Comedy, trademark dance moves and drunken scenes.
Mehra had a great ear for good dialogue and music . His regular dialogue writer was the Late Kader Khan’s who passed away recently.Kader Khan wrote dialogue for a lot of Bachchan films and was a key creative force in creating the bachchan persona. This film is no different. It can also be said that there isn’t a greater actor in the world than Bachchan when it comes to dialogue delivery. He is blessed with a magnificent voice Then there are those measured pauses while delivering the lines,the modulation , the rhythms, its just fantastic. Moreover, There isn’t a better actor who can do an entertaining drunken scene than Bachchan . Mehra has designed the lead character of Vicky by fusing these two qualities of the actor. His Vicky is an alcoholic, mischievous, sarcastic , romantic son of a wealthy businessman (Played by Pran).Father and son does not get along and Vicky is more closer to his mentor and confidant Munshiji (played by Om Prakash) . Vicky also has delusions about himself being a great poet and indulges in some absurd poetry from time to time which is disapproved by Munshiji who has a good taste in poetry. These character traits ensure that Bachchan gets to say some of the most funniest and best lines – as seen in the video clip below – and since he is an alcoholic , he gets to say the lines in a drunken stupor. Its a One man Bachchan show all the way where he pulls out every trick as a superstar performer .The screenplay is cleanly written with a straight narrative line . There are no subplots , no spectacular set pieces – like in the Manmohan desai films of the time- . Its all about his character and the dynamic that he shares with the co actors like Om praksh , Pran, the heroine Jaya Prada and of course Actor Mukhri ,who has a famous supporting role as Nathulal , with whom Bachchan engages in some good-natured banter. The film vows with Bachchan’s genius with words and comedy.
It’s obvious that I am a die hard Bachchan fan, but I must stress that i am much more a fan of Bachchan, the star performer than Bachchan the pure actor. i am not just talking about his larger than life one man variety entertainment shows like Amar Akbar Anthony , Suhaag,Naseeb, Lawaaris etc but also Zanjeer, Deewaar, Trishul, Kaala Paththar too. even there , you could see the star charisma , the starry mannerisms and tics that elevate what is basically a more realistic character to a more mythic , more larger than life plain. By that account Bachchan is one of those rarest of rare actors who is capable of doing both;Give a realistic dimension to the larger than life characters as well as giving a mythic scale to real characters.
But by the mid 80’s Bachchan has grown so big that directors had starting casting him for only mythic roles.When Sharaabi came out in 1984, he had pretty much stopped doing more realistic characters even in the masala genre . He had also stopped doing multi starrers, concentrating on doing fewer films where he is the lone star..He was also about to make the monumental mistake of joining politics that would dent his image irrevocably. The very next year , Manmohan Desai’s film Mard would be released that would water down his serious masala hero even further, making it more comic booky .Bachchan’s character in Mard was a strange mix of Phantom ,Zorro and the regular hindi film hero. Even Prakash Mehra’s next with Bachchan would be the atrocious Jaadugar where he played a kind of Desi Mandrake. So Sharaabi happened at a turning point in his career and it would be sort of a last of its kind. Inspite of its masala feel ,it is more of a genre picture. A musical romantic dramedy , if you will It falls into the latter category where the character is earthbound but still feels mythic , ‘masala’ because Bachchan is playing it.
The film also breaks the myth that Bachchan and good music do not go together. Its a true blue musical, with a lot of the narration done through songs and music. Music director Bhappi Lahiri does give a very commercial score , but there is a good mix of classical in it, showing Mehra’s influence.All the songs in the film became superhits . The Bachchan introduction number gives an inkling as to the kind of film that is going to unfold. Its mainly a fun song with a separate film within it ,where Bachchan plays a drunkard husband and Smitha Patil his wife. A crazy mix of music, comedy and drama where Bachchan is in his elements with his dance moves and comical mannerisms.
Then there is Naulakka manga dhe tere song which is about 10 mins long and is one of the longest songs in hindi films. I love the way , log kehte hain main sharaabi hoon begins. usually the hero sings who i am songs are more fast paced, more peppy, but this one is very classical
Then it proceeds to the more romantic tracks like Inteha ho gayi and then to the more philosophical Manzilen apni jagah hai.It will also be one of Kishore Kumar’s last full albums for Bachchan. Manmohan desai had stopped using Kishore Kumar long time back sticking to Mohammed Rafi and then after his death his clones like Munna and Mohammed Aziz. Kishore Kumar’s vocal process adds a lot to the songs.
As i already said, it isn’t much of a masala film and so there are just a couple of Bachchan fight sequences.One a very funny fight with a group of thieves who had stolen his stuff and the other in the climax. . The final act of the film does drag, once Bachchan leave his house and starts playing the lovelorn hero. The tone of the film also takes a heavy melodramatic turn with the death of Om Prakash and Bachchan trying to quit drinking and all that. But it doesn’t matter, because Bachchan always delivers as a star actor, whether its comedy, Drama or Melodrama, and keeps things watchable. Truly , there will never be anybody like him again