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11 October 2011

Deewar (1975)

Directed by: Yash Chopra
Music: RD Burman
Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor, Nirupa Roy, 
Neetu Singh, Parveen Babi, Satyen Kapoo, 
Madan Puri, Iftekhar, Manmohan Krishna
1975 was an important year for Amitabh Bachchan. After having established his acting credentials with Zanjeer, Abhimaan, and Namak Haram in 1973, he had only Majboor to boast of the following year. Other releases like Roti Kapda aur Makan (a supporting role) and Benaam (based on The Man Who Knew Too Much) were average grossers. In an industry where you were only as good as your previous hit, it must have been a scary time. Fortunately for him, 1975 provided him with a bouquet of hits. Apart from Deewar, Mili and Chupke Chupke saw him in varied roles while Sholay became a blockbuster to end all blockbusters.

At the annual Police award function sub-inspector Ravi Verma (Shashi Kapoor) is receiving an award for going above and beyond the call for duty.
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In his acceptance speech, he mentions how there is a woman behind his success – and begs that she accept his award in his stead. His mother is escorted to the podium and accepts the award. Only, neither mother nor son are entirely happy.The applause that greets her brings back to memory another day, another audience cheering. 

Cut to flashback: Sumitra Devi (Nirupa Roy) is part of a happy household comprising her husband, union leader Anand Verma (Satyen Kapoo), and sons Vijay (Master Alankar) and Ravi (Master Raju). Anand and the other workers are on strike for better wages and benefits.
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The mill owner (DK Sapru) is thoughtful but strikes down a suggestion that Anand be killed. For a man killed betimes becomes a martyr. He cannot be bribed, the minions whine. So? He has to have some weakness, the owner says. And that is where they will strike at him. 

And so, Anand is called to to the negotiation table, and the workers are jubilant. However, when he comes out, they find out that he has sold them out. Why? They receive no answer from him, and overnight, the hero becomes a pariah. His wife knows why he did it, and sympathises, but Anand cannot bear the taunts and the hurt among his erstwhile friends and colleagues. He leaves home, but his infamy lingers like some miasma over the family, as they fend for themselves. 

One day, as Vijay is returning from school, he is taunted by the village louts until his rage boils over. When he retaliates, the men drag him to the town tattoo artist. Vijay’s anger and bitterness spills over. When his mother questions him, he wordlessly holds his arm out – Mera baap chor hai (My father is a thief) has not just been tattooed on his arm; it’s been marked on his heart and soul.
Eventually, Sumitra Devi decides to leave the town and the memories behind; with her children in tow, she comes to Bombay. There, aided by Vijay who refuses to go to school anymore, they toil to educate Ravi. Younger, protected from the worst of their problems by his mother and brother, Ravi slogs at school, while his mother works at a construction site, and Vijay sets up as a shoe shine boy. Where, one man, at least, recognises the fire inside him.
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Fed up with their constant troubles, little Vijay has lost faith; when his mother exhorts him to pray, he refuses. And an enlightened priest asks her to leave the child be. And the temple bells clang out the passing of the years. Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) still waits on the temple steps while his mother and brother pray.
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As they leave the temple, the brothers go their different ways. Ravi (Shashi Kapoor) is now a graduate searching for a job, while Vijay works at the docks. In conversation with an old colleague Rahim chacha (Yunuz Parvez), Vijay learns that his badge number (786) is auspicious to the Muslims; Rahim chacha tells him that as long as he has it, Allah would protect him.
Vijay also learns that nothing has changed for the coolies – they still have to pay hafta (‘protection’ money); only the extortionists change. Samant’s (Madan Puri) men work the docks; every payday means a percentage reaches Samant’s office. When one of the new workers refuses to bow to the extortion, Samant’s men take it by force; in the ensuing melee the poor youth is killed. As the other workers rue the youth’s indiscretion in going against the accepted norm, Vijay is lost in thought.
Vijay keeps his word, much to the consternation of the local yokels. No one has ever challenged them before. And this cannot be allowed to rest. They had to deal with the malcontent now!
But that is easier said than done. Bowing down to his Rahim chacha’s wishes, Vijay has been lying low, but not for lack of courage. While Peter’s men are searching for him high and low, he is...
When he has finished with them, he is a hero in his colleagues’ eyes, but his mother lambasts him. Is he their saviour? Why did he have to go looking for those louts? What if something had happened to him? Vijay is not cowed down – what does she want? That he also run away like a coward? The emphasis is slight, but it sears through her like acid.

The next morning, on his way to the docks, Vijay has a visitor. And an offer. Davar (Iftekhar) is a smuggler who has lost his gold three times to Samant. What he needs is a man who will ensure the safety of the gold from the time it’s unloaded from the steamers until it is stored in his godowns.
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And the deal is struck, but not before Vijay reminds Davar of something crucial.
Meanwhile, Ravi, at a loose end, is spending some time with Veena (Neetu Singh) when her father comes up; he suggests that Ravi join the police. Vijay has just received his first assignment. Davar’s gold is landing at Versova, and Vijay wants to tackle the job alone. Davar is taking a risk, but he allows Vijay to play it as he sees it. Using Samant’s men, Vijay gets the gold safely into Davar’s godown. Samant is beyond furious.
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But Davar is grateful. And generous. And Vijay’s first step is buy a bungalow for his family. His mother is worried. Is he doing something he shouldn’t be? Vijay reassures her. He is doing nothing he shouldn’t be doing. And then Ravi comes charging up – he has been accepted to the police training academy. Isn’t that great? Vijay is taken aback. However, there is not much he can say, and Ravi leaves for the academy. Vijay continues working for Davar, and is happy to plot and scheme for him, even using his own life as bait. And at the appointed time, Vijay sets out to keep his appointment with death. And for the second time, his badge saves him.

Vijay also finds his romance, in the most unlikeliest of places – the bar of a hotel. Anita (Parveen Babi) is a prostitute, one who openly smokes and drinks. His first meeting with her ends with him buying her a drink; soon, she is his mistress. And eventually, they fall in love.
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Samant is not an easy man to fool, but Vijay’s ploy works and soon, one of Davar’s men is a mole in their rival’s gang. And Davar relinquishes his command to Vijay, much to the consternation of his second-in-command. Vijay has attained all that he had set out to do, and Ravi is coming back after training. The brothers’ paths have diverged more than Vijay had ever dreamed. And what Vijay fears comes true. 
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On his first day on the job, Ravi is given a file of police suspects. When push comes to shove, his mother, for whom Vijay had forsaken everything, forsakes him. And as she and Ravi leave his home, Vijay is left alone.
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As Ravi takes on the case, the crime lords are willing to put a price on his head. Vijay stops them but is forced to tell his mentor that Ravi is his brother. Ravi is now both hunter and the hunted.
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Vijay asks to meet him, the final meeting between the brothers, who now stand on opposite sides of the law. The only neutral area they can meet is under the bridge where they passed their childhood. Vijay has already played his hand; now, whether he wins or loses, he has to await the outcome of the game. His brother, he argues, still has time… 

But will Ravi agree to leave? More importantly, will Vijay be able to save his brother from the wrath of the underworld? 

But that is just the beginning of Vijay's troubles. 
And the film winds tautly down to its tragic climax.

Zanjeer was Amitabh’s breakthrough into the big league. However it was his controlled performance in Deewar that consolidated his position. His anger and his anguish scorch the screen with an intensity that hasn’t been matched yet in commercial cinema. For a film that does not let up on the drama, it was Amitabh’s acting coupled with the taut script by Salim-Javed that had us rooting for a man outside the bounds of morality. 

Vijay is totally anti-hero. He does not sing; his ‘romance’ starts as an affair with a prostitute (played with great empathy by Parveen Babi); it’s the meeting of two lonely souls who find an understanding non-judgemental partner in the other. There is no moralising; Anita stops drinking not because ‘good women do not drink’ but because she is pregnant. Vijay goes straight not because he suddenly gets religion but because he does not want his unborn son to be scarred the way he was. Even when he steps into the temple again, it is not out of a return in faith, but more to condemn a stone god who cannot do anything to save a woman whose faith has been beyond reproach. 

Ravi’s character gave me more trouble. It is a complicated one, and even today, after repeated viewings, I cannot warm to him. He has reaped the benefits of his brother’s sweat; why the necessity, nay, the urgency to hunt him down? There is something unlikeable about his character (and I’m biased enough that I’ll admit that if the tables were turned, and it had been Amitabh as Ravi, I may have been more sympathetic), and while Shashi Kapoor played him more than competently, I wanted to take a gun and shoot him for relentlessly pursuing his brother. (And what on earth was Shashi Kapoor playing younger brother for, anyway? He is older than Amitabh!)

Neetu Singh was there for the forgettable songs. I wish they had removed her character (and the songs) since it seriously derailed the narrative. Her character was totally unnecessary to the plot. Parveen Babi, with much less screen time, fared better. Her Anita was not stereotypical ‘whore-with-a-golden-heart’. Au contraire. She smokes, drinks, sleeps openly with her lover, and does not exhort him to marry her when she realises she is pregnant. She dies in the end, yes, but there is no feeling that she died because she is a ‘fallen woman’. She is collateral damage, a fact that Vijay understands, and mourns. 

Some trivia: ‘Vijay’ was originally offered to Rajesh Khanna. Erm, I can only be glad that the role changed hands. 
And Amitabh’s look in the film? Well, a dressmaker’s mistake was responsible. The shirt that was given to Amitabh the first day of shooting was too long, and it wouldn’t have done to tuck it in. With no time to get a new shirt, Amitabh picked the tails and knotted it in front, leaving the buttons undone. They liked the look so much they kept it right through until he graduates to smart suits and smuggling.

What I liked about Deewar is that it is not a gratuitously ‘violent’ film, in that there is only *one* fight scene in the whole movie. Yet, the violence was so much more for being implied. The scene where he kills Samant is all the more chilling for the cold-bloodedness with which Vijay carries out the murder. Vijay’s anger is turned inwards, much as the other Vijay from Zanjeer. While the latter Vijay’s anger bursts out once in a while, Deewar’s Vijay has suppressed his emotions. He is not interested in revenge for the sake of revenge. It is the system that he is fighting, not the representatives of that system. But just as in Zanjeer, he was symbolic of the youth of time and their angst. 

And as the westerns would have said it: “Gentlemen, beware. A man has come to town.”


  1. I have to disagree with that comment about the songs! ;-) There IS one song in this film that I find literally earth-shattering. Maine tujhe maanga tujhe paaya hai:


    (Now the reason why I said that: my earliest recollection of the video of that song was of watching it when I was 10 years old. We used to live in Srinagar, and 10:20 every night, there was a songs programme on TV. My sister and I were sitting and watching it - Maine tujhe maanga was being shown right then - when everything started shaking and swaying. Our parents were upstairs, fast asleep already, and we were terrified, because we had no idea what was going on.
    My first experience of a bad earthquake).

    Seriously, though, this was such a memorable film. Such good acting, and so mature in some ways.

  2. Madhu, for a moment as I read your comment, I was zapped. How *could* you like Maine tujhe maanga tujhe paaya hai? I mean, pleasant enough song and all that, but nothing great and totally out of place in the story. It was as if they had given Shashi Kapoor a heroine since Amitabh had one, and then didn't know what to do with her; so Chalo, ek do gaane dete hain.

    If you hadn't given me the explanation (I laughed so much at that) until later (even in a different comment) the suspense would have been so much better! A truly earth-shaking experience, huh?

  3. Another defining film of my youth, as far as I recall "Deewar" was not based on any foreign piece. As you mentioned, this film did catapult Amitabh into the very big leagues.
    There are several incredible things about "Deewar", and you have pointed many of them of them. Iftekar as Davar delivers a great performance, with some well-written & well-delivered lines such as "Yeh lambi Race Ka Ghoda Hai". Apparently MacMohan was better known as "Sambha" after "Sholay", and in the same vein we tend to remember the name "Jaichand" instead of the actor Sudhir. Madan Puri was well known, but even he was known as "Samant" for some time. Nirupa Roy was fairly competent, and certainly cemented her # 1 "Maa" position in the industry.
    Incidentally, Master Alankar (young Vijay) went to the same school as I did, and was a few years junior to me. He did a great job in this film, and we do not remember him displaying any boot-polishing skills in school.:)

  4. Samir, Deewar, as Javedsaab tells it, was influenced a lot by their (his and Salimsaab's) liking for Mother India and Ganga Jumna, but was not a direct lift of either. It was definitely not a rip-off, but then, I don't think *any* of their scripts were. Unless you count Seeta aur Geeta (which took off on Ram aur Shyam).

    Wasn't it great to see Iftekhar as a smuggler instead of Inspector? I think that was the greatest part about Salim-Javed - *all* their characters were well- scripted. And so, it is not only the 'hero' or the 'villain' that you remember, but also the supporting cast.

    This was Nirupa Roy's first film as Amitabh's mom - I think she went on to play the same role for another half-a-dozen movies after that.

    LOL at the comment about Master Alankar! I'm sure he didn't need to polish any boots at all! He was quite successful as a child star, though he never did make the transition to a successful hero. His sister is a fantastic actress - Pallavi Joshi.

  5. Another point is that this film's picturization of Bombay was superb, indeed both the Marine Drive shots (Nirupa Roy with two kids & later AB & Iftekar agreeing to work together) are splendid; probably the best shots ever of Marine Drive in Bollywood history. The dock scenes, the earlier basti scenes, the bridge scene, the building under construction scene, the newly constructed building scene, the 5 star hotel scenes (Oberoi Sheraton I believe); all were wonderful and enhanced the credibility & enjoyment of the movie.

  6. You are right; this film showcased Bombay like never before! IMO, that was why there was a ring of authenticity about the outdoor scenes.

  7. Arre baap re!
    I was goen for ten days and you have turned with dher sara posts. Mein yeh sab kab phadu.Right now I am in Subah aur shaam kaam hi kaam mode. Hope to get time on Friday to go through it.

  8. Ha, ha. So does that mean we'll have to wait for your jail posts also?

  9. Okay, this is the first Hindi movie that I saw (it's Rishi's favorite) and I don't mind confessing that I cried when Vijay died. I actually enjoyed the songs, if you don't mind. They made a nice break to the tension onscreen. I have to watch this again now.

  10. Double Whammy! I miss a day and come back to two of my favourite films. And I didn't like Shashi Kapoor either! He was too goody-goody for my liking. Have your read Philip's analysis of this one? Over at Philip's fil-ums? Here's the link.

    He has a very interesting take why Ravi behaves the way he behaves. I wonder if anyone could check with Salim-Javed whether they had that thought in mind at all? (Personally? I don't think they did. I think it was more of a good brother / bad brother conflict. But it would be nice to be sure. :) )

  11. I read this earlier but didn't get a chance to comment. One of my favourite Amitabh movies, up there with Zanjeer, Sholay, Trishul, Kala Patthar... Glad to see you are continuing with the reviews. I thought they might stop after his birthday. :)

    Rajesh Khanna in this role? God! I'm glad it went to Amitabh. I cannot imagine anyone else in this role.

  12. I'm glad you enjoyed the songs. :) It's just that to me, it broke the narrative, and I wanted to focus on Vijay, not Ravi. Ravi's problems didn't strike a chord with me, so the whole 'I want a job where I do not have a recommendation' made it seem like he was this stuck-up ass (not at all what the scriptwriters were aiming for, I know!).

  13. Thanks for the link, Sridhar. I haven't visited the site for a long time now but it was interesting to read what he said about Ravi. And no, I'm sure Salim-Javed did not have any such complicated thoughts in their head when they wrote the character's graph. :) I think that is analysing too much.

  14. Nope, this month is Amitabh month over at this blog, so you have some more Amitabh films to look forward to (or not, as the case may be). :) After which, I think I will take a complete break from Hindi cinema for some time. There are so many other films in so many other languages to focus on. And then maybe a song list or two when I get my Hindi-film craving again. :))

  15. it is already published!
    now I can go through your posts!

  16. Do you know I haven't seen Deewar as yet! I must be the only hindi film buff, who hasn't seen it as yet.
    I think that this period of Hindi film history was the last fruitful one.

  17. Your assignment for today - go watch Deewar. Now. :) But truly, this was the trail end of the golden period, I think.

  18. Oh, good! I shall scoot over there to see what you've given us this time. I know it will be pretty unusual.

  19. Anu quite lengthy but entertaining post on Deewar. It's Amitabh best-written role till date. I like your conversations over chai concept, as me & my friends love to discuss the minute details of the celluloid over chai...

  20. Wonderful post on Deewar, It's Amitabh best-written role till date. Byt the way I like your conversation on chai concept. As we friends discuss movies all the time during our tea time..

  21. Thank you for dropping by, Gaurav, and adding to the conversation.  I know my posts are generally lengthy :) but then there is so much to say about these movies, no?

  22.  I saw it today at last!
    Enjoyed every minute of it.
    It made me think of it a lot and will post a review of it soon. I hope I can get enough material and put my thoughts to words (my Achilles heel)!

  23. harvey, good boy! Der aaye, durust aaye - only six months late - not bad. :) Looking forward to reading your thoughts on the film.

  24. Superb post. Especially glad that you made this point-

    "What I liked about Deewar is that it is not a gratuitously ‘violent’
    film, in that there is only *one* fight scene in the whole movie. Yet,
    the violence was so much more for being implied. The scene where he
    kills Samant is all the more chilling for the cold-bloodedness with
    which Vijay carries out the murder. Vijay’s anger is turned inwards,
    much as the other Vijay from Zanjeer."-

    An extract on Deewar from my own tangential ramblings on the film-

    "Deewar itself is shrouded in memories. The past and its shame are
    important regulators of Vijay’s (Amitabh Bachchan) trajectory in the
    film.The ‘Mera Baap Chor Hai’ scar/tattoo, literally carved on the body
    produces a pain which subsequently becomes the alibi for Vijay’s
    rebellion or revenge, and finally closure and redemption, achieved
    through death. The scar also occasions reunion, a ‘psychic fusion’ with
    his mother, who abandons him despite her exessive love. Surrendering in
    the end to the State, to law, Vijay is well compensated by dying in his
    mother’s lap, a defeat ‘masking victory’. Here the powerfully enduring
    trinity of mother, god, and nation is reiterated. The mother, a metaphor
    for nation and a site of contest, is conferred power and stands for
    Father’s law. Death redeems Vijay’s past, reuninting him with the mother
    family and nation. But in Ghulam it’s the father who will become the
    site for the dilemmas and their resolution…"

    Ghulam- Spaces, Memory and the 'Deewar Reversal'



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