Revisiting The Classic That Was 'Deewar'
Deewar, after 40 years, stands not just as a symbolic representation of the wall between the good and not-so-good depicted in the film but one that has been firmly entrenched between the masala-laden, rich, ‘epic-driven’ story-telling that was the hall-mark of the ‘70s/early ‘80s and the multiplex-pleasing, Hollywood-bastardized story-telling of present times.
The movie is a marvel and a testimony to those nerve-centers of movie-making process as an art-form; the heart in the art, the might in the pen, and lastly, the technique in story-telling. Right from that scene when Anand Babu [the father] talks not of any labor laws or any specific industrial or ergonomically-stamped laws but of the fact that in any society that wants to be invoked as decent, it’s vulgar to have the rich-folks’/owners’ vases decorated with fresh-flowers every day while the miners’ houses remain stenched with baasi roti, it is quite clear that the objective and core of Salim Khan-Javed Akhtar’s fantastic writing is to paint the celluloid with news-of-the-period using the broad-strokes format of story-telling that is intrinsic to the great epics of Mahabharat and the Ramayana.
That the kids named Vijay and Ravi Verma actually look up to the father and his principles primarily and secondarily to the unconditional love of the mother is established in the early scenes of the movie. Vijay [Amitabh Bachchan] is the one that is most influenced and affected by the principles-invested life of his father while Ravi [Shashi Kapoor] is the one who is smarter, wiser, and emotionally-intelligent in absorbing the good and the bad and more importantly, more acceptant of the current social-structure. Hence, it is Vijay who is more-than-willing, almost compulsively so, to subvert the status-quo at the Bombay docks and thence extrapolating it to the society in general. He is the one that bucks the system by refusing to pay extortion; by refusing to accept loose change thrown on the ground after shoe-shining a couple of race-crazy aristocrats. Contrastingly, Ravi is quite happy and influenced by SAARE JAHAN SE ACCHA HINDUSTAN HAMARA  — even when SAARE JAHAN is not actually ACCHA for one and all – regurgitated almost mechanically by school-going kids close to the bridge under which the unlucky have stitched-up a meagre existence.
Vijay is quite content letting his and his mother’s sweat-drenched money be used for Ravi’s education. He doesn’t really either believe in, or wish for an education that only underscores the societal status-quo. It is only later that Ravi gets a shot of what status-quo is about when he keeps losing jobs thanks to influences [so strong that hiring managers get sweaty fore-heads during phone-talk] and rampant corruption among the office-class.
I keep referring to Salim-Javed’s brilliant screenplay for Deewar. Initially, after Anand Babu’s forced betrayal of the labor class, when Vijay is forcibly tattooed ‘मेरा बाप चोर हैं’,  there is a fine pre-cursor to this scene. A drunk meanders along and wants his ‘darling’s’ name imprinted on his hand, to which, the tattoo – artist replies, ‘नशा तो उतर जाएगा; नाम ज़िंदगी भर रह जाएगा|’.  And that continues to haunt and drive Vijay’s life through-out: the fate of his father branded onto his fore-arm, his conscience and extendedly, his whole life.
When the grown-up Ravi asks his mother as to what she pleads/prays to the Gods every day, she has but a simple and unadulterated answer: ‘Happiness for you; Peace for Vijay.’ Right there, is the magic of word-play; the mother KNOWS what strikes at the heart of her sons. Ravi needs happiness; while Vijay needs peace: Peace and redemption from a past where he is troubled with his father’s ‘betrayal’ of his own principles. Does one really need a shrink there? When one has the unbeatable advantage of a mother that understands every troubled heart-beat of her sons?
One of the key scenes – a ‘fight’ scene – in the movie is the one where Vijay takes on single-handedly (below) – the extortionist and his bunch of goons in a stock-room. Amitabh sitting on a chair brusquely waiting and then telling the goons, ‘Peter, you guys are searching me all over and I am right here, waiting for you,’ is one of the most defining moments of Indian cinema; if not more, for sure akin to De Niro’s ‘You talking to me’ scene or Hoffman’s, ‘Hey I am walkin’ here, I am walkin’ here!’ In that one scene, Amitabh conveys a text-book gamut of masculinity, of a survivor, of an outlier, of a ruffian-by-force that has yet to be bettered by ANY actor on the Indian screen. [And of course, a sharp precursor to this iconic scene is the one where Amitabh sits right beneath a portrait of Gandhi sipping tea from a saucer-plate and tells his compatriot Rahim Chacha, ’Tomorrow another coolie will refuse to pay the 2 rupee extortion fee’, conveying an ever-elongating distance between Gandhi’s principles and the resultant of ‘unrest’ in the Indian proletariat of the time, the ‘70s.]
Amitabh’s Vijay decides to join Dawar’s [Ifthekar’s] smuggling business. [There is a fine, metaphorically underscored scene where both Vijay and Ravi are shown destined to walk different paths in life and in principle when they walk to their respective ‘duties’ at an acute angle to each other from that influential, over-arching, intersection point at the temple stairs; their mother.] - The supreme confidence and irrationality of Amitabh’s Vijay is superbly conveyed in many scenes throughout. Let’s take one subtle scene: During the ‘round-table’ discussion hatching out a plan to out-wit the rival smuggler Samant [Madan Puri] when Vijay says, he knows he is the one that can get the job done, notice the seating-arrangement; there is Dawar at one end of the table, and Vijay is sitting bang-opposite him, alone; all others are sitting on the side, together, in cooped-up positions. It is only Vijay and Dawar that are symbolically lone; charting unique paths. Dawar then warns Vijay, ‘You will have both Samant and the cops after you.’ Vijay replies,’ दावर सब, मेरे पीछे तो सिर्फ़ मेरी किस्मत होगी|’  Or another gem when Samant, whom Vijay has, frankly speaking, double-crossed, calls up Vijay to warn him that this act would cost him, Vijay simply replies nonchalantly, ‘में दुश्मनी मोल लेता हूँ तो सस्ते महेंगे की परवाह नहीं करता’.  To re-iterate that the film is littered with such clap-worthy lines would but just be an under-statement.
Amitabh’s Vijay – whose character always seems to promulgate an authorial and allegorical representation of outliers—meets an escort-woman [Parveen Babi] whose real name would turn out to be Anita but could be exchanged and renamed as per the whims and fantasies of her clientele. These both become emotionally clutched to each other in a way not comprehensible to the ‘normal’ societal standards. Their closeness is surprisingly candid – and so tangible – for the story-arc; Vijay is just shown enjoying a post-coital smoke in one of the following scenes! There is hardly any drama, any philosophical or existential lingering – there are just two souls charred by the fire of fate and fueled by societal conflation to accept them as-is. Now in today’s times, feminists or non-feminists might take umbrage to the fact that Anita’s ultimate redemption, as per her mother, would lie in getting married adorned with a wedding-saree gifted from her mother and not in being a woman of her own terms. But one has to respect the times in the Indian-context; maybe Germaine Greer’s influence was too slow in crossing over the Atlantic onto the shores of Bombay. Anita’s happiness lay in getting married to Vijay and legitimizing a child born-out-of-wedlock, which, alas, is cut-short by Samant’s knife.
Of course, well before this, the atheist Vijay lands up at the temple not so much imploring as much as demanding the Lord – to spare her mother and not make her pay for sins of the son.
That Salim-Javed have always had a keen mind for literature is evident in that Les Miserables’ Jean Valjean inspired scene— one which was very recently turned into a literal nightmare by the sound and sight of Russel Crowe crowing in Les Miserables — of a person suffering lawful repercussions for stealing a loaf of bread to calm hunger-afflicted family members. This then strengthens Ravi’s resolve to go after his criminal-brother and is finely conveyed through the calmness and clarity of Hangal Saab’s character. [Again, great screenplay: One scene has Vijay moving away from Gandhi’s non-violent principles right under his portrait and one has Ravi coming to terms and understanding Gandhi’s principles of incorruptibility.]
When Ravi is at the hospital praying for his mother’s recovery, he keeps pondering and mentions his girl-friend [Neetu Singh’s Leena] about his mental conflict regarding bringing his blood-brother to ‘judicial’ justice since he is but a sum-total of his father’s blood, his mother’s milk, and his brother’s sweat. She then proceeds to talk about the ‘Gitopadesha’ offered by Lord Krishna to Arjuna. Oh how one wishes Nolan, Caine, and Bale had simply read an abridged version of the Gita..or simply seen Deewar.
That famous scene beneath the memories-plastered bridge is one for the cinematic history-books. Vijay’s general rhetoric about his ‘status’ in life validated by bank-balance, property, cash, cars – which, in today’s wonderful economically-liberated times, would not be acceptable even in a shaadi.com matrimonial and/or a consummated-marriage, or, an alimony before the first year – is met with a self-sufficient and confident Ravi’s, ‘मेरे पास मा है’,  yielding a hammer-strong impact to Vijay and the audiences alike.
Amitabh simply nails the role of Vijay with an inner angst and repression that can only be conveyed by actors with a tremendous understanding of the art-form and the character in-study. Not a single smile, except the wry ones, escapes his lips. He stays in character throughout and never once does he slip. This is a performance for the ages, and one that should be made a pre-requisite watch before giving that first shot for any budding actor – especially the ones that mistake Gold Gym free 1-month trial-membership for a semester at FTII.
Shashi proves a perfect foil to Amitabh’s intensity. Nirupa Roy as the mother, of course, stands central to the universe of this film, inspite of the towering performance from the lead actor, finely-supplementing Nargis’ character from Mother. Whether it’s her unabashed declaration that she loves Vijay more than Ravi or whether it’s her admonition of Vijay that he isn’t as yet rich to buy-off his mother, she traverses a dangerous line between stereo-type and that innate ‘motherly’ quality that many from the Eastern cultures yearn for and take for granted. And to this end, Amitabh’s Vijay has only two concerns to rid himself of the burden of a character-assassinated father’s history and provide his mother happiness she’s been unjustly robbed of. His clothes, the wine and whisky, the cars, are all but accoutrements without soul: Even the building that he buys for his mother – that which owes its foundation and height to the blood, sweat, tears, and insults of his mother – is but reflected in his shiny goggles. That’s what all the materialistic things mean to him; deserving of being thrown at the feet of his mother. [He even gifts her one small temple in the house!]
Vijay’s badge number at the Bombay docks – 786; a divine number for the Islamic faith – stands not just as a symbolic representation of India’s multi-cultural ethos but a pre-cursor to the many personas Amitabh the actor would go on to embody: From Amar Akbar Anthony or Naseeb to Desh Premee to Coolie, NO other actor continues to evoke the idea of India as intelligently and unequivocally as Amitabh Bachchan, the artist. And as I said before, it’s been over 40 years…
 Better than the entire world is our nation
 My father’s a thief
 Intoxication will die-down, but the imprint remains
 All that will be chasing me is my fate
 When I strike enmity, I don’t indulge in petty profit and loss statements
 I have mother with/for me