Every now and then a film comes along that just satisfies you in every way. You aren't left wishing the story had been more ____, or the dialogues had been more ____, or the performances had been more____, or the music had been more____ or whatever…. You are just satisfied in every way, because the movie is just… all that and more. 'Deewaar' is one such movie – and the best thing is that, for all the brilliance of its crafting (Yash Chopra directs brilliantly, Salim-Javed's masterful writing is all things beautiful – sheer perfection in every scene, RD Burman's music is excellent, the action scenes are well-staged, there is some lovely cinematography with some truly iconic images, even the costume design and make-up rocks…), it also has a great deal of heart.
Ravi (played by Shashi Kapoor) and Vijay (played by Amitabh Bachchan) are brothers, but each has a very different outlook on life. Ravi has a wholesome, unassuming, unambitious, and sincere desire to seek fulfilment by walking the straight and narrow. He is non-confrontational, good-natured, almost naïve – very sweet, really. Even when, in the course of his search for employment, he is confronted with inequality and injustice, he does not fully engage with it – he deals with it by manufacturing a string of similes about the world being like a chest of drawers, a cupboard, a third class train. When he has the opportunity to deprive another young man of a job opportunity, his conscience will not allow him to – like every other eager young man he wants to succeed, but he is not desperate enough to hurt someone else in order to succeed... so he steps back.
When Ravi eventually finds himself (and not on purpose, as it is a goal he would never have considered himself worthy of) in the police force and under oath to fight injustice, he is crushed to discover that the injustice is not 'out there', to be expressed in poetic metaphors and looked upon philosophically. Nahin, injustice and inequality is nearer and dearer to him than he could have ever imagined. In boldly and painfully confronting and grappling with this injustice, Ravi loses one of the most important relationships in his life. At great cost, he discovers a steeliness and resolve he never knew he had – and becomes a man.
Vijay, on the other hand, is relentless and unscrupulous in his pursuit of a better life. One extremely cruel childhood encounter has scarred him for life – emotionally, as well as physically. And along with this terrible event, abandoned by their father, Vijay and his brother (with their mother having to play the role of father as well as mother) have had to endure deprivation and degradation. So now the adult Vijay is haunted and hurting – and angry…. He is angry at many people – at his father, at the men who made an offensive inscription on his arm, at society and 'the system' for kicking the three of them when they were down, at God for allowing all this to happen despite his mother's devotion to Him… but most of all Vijay is angry at himself.
He's angry at himself for being a victim, for seeing his mother become a victim, for feeling helpless and unable to make up for all the suffering.
Ravi and Vijay are the sons of a former trade union leader, a man who fearlessly stood up for justice until the price of his uprightness became too great for him to bear. In a way, both Ravi and Vijay are very much their father's sons… fearless, courageous, single-minded and determined (although for Vijay, that courage is almost instinctive, while Ravi has to discover it). Both have also inherited their father's substantial leadership qualities – Vijay's abilities in this regard shine through early in the film while he is working as a dockhand – it gives you a glimpse of how effective he could have been had he chosen to harness that boldness and ability to inspire in a more positive way.
The difference between father and sons, however, is that, unlike their father (and in Vijay's case at least, in a conscious effort not to tread their father's path) both brothers stubbornly refuse to back down from their fight for justice… and each brother's concept of 'justice' is very different. For Ravi, justice is firmly on the side of the good – it's about putting the bad guys behind bars, and without fear or favour. For Vijay, it's about taking what he can as quickly as he can, by any means necessary, from an intrinsically and endemically unjust system; and all in a futile attempt to numb the pain, to destroy the power of the past. It's about taking complete advantage of his luck until it runs out. So Ravi and Vijay, hitherto loving and very close brothers (with Vijay doting on Ravi, and Ravi adoring his bhaiyya), end up firmly on different and opposite sides of the same wall – hence the film's title.
In a way, the wall also represents Maa (played to perfection by Nirupa Roy), who is caught between these brothers. Deeply loved and respected, Maa has sacrificed everything for her sons and loves them both with all her heart… but like all mothers (although they will usually deny this); she has a soft spot in her heart for one of them. In a scenario that reminded me of Radha and Birju in 'Mother India', Maa shares a very deep and special bond with her restless, defiant firstborn son Vijay. Part of the reason for this could be that, as the older son, Vijay has consciously witnessed and shared in more of Maa's suffering, while they have both sought (and fought) to protect Ravi from becoming too keenly aware of the full extent of their lack. (In fact, Vijay took up child labour so that Ravi could get an education). More importantly though, I think part of the reason for this bond is that Maa sees beyond Vijay's tough and abrasive exterior to the wounded, tender, sensitive heart within. In a way, she's the only one who fully 'gets' him.
The only one, that is, until the sassy Anita (played very capably and memorably by Parveen Babi) shows up.
As the story progresses, the wall between the brothers becomes an increasing source of frustration, conflict, even alienation. Maa is in a heartbreaking position. Like Radha in 'Mother India', she ultimately must deny Vijay and hurt him, in order to be true to herself (and to Ravi). It hurts to see Vijay become the cornered, wounded animal, and to see his own brother have to play the role of hunter…
The inexorable denouement is perfectly symmetrical with the rest of the story, flowing directly from it – and the filmmakers, as Sanket notes, never allow you to look away from it, there are no cop-outs. Commendably, they commit to showing us what the characters really go through, their dilemma, their pain, warts and all. (Not really what I would associate with Yash Chopra – this is not a pretty, shiny, sentimental film; although it definitely is elegant, stylish and beautifully shot, which I would associate with Yash Chopra). I certainly did not expect to see realistic, frank scenes like these in a Yash-ji film:
The overall effect of the film is raw, gritty and hard-hitting, slamming the viewer with an almost brutal impact, and providing lots of food for thought. Even the sunny, light-hearted parts all lead somewhere – towards the inescapable conclusion of this very human, very real tale. For example, I love these adorable, light-hearted and carefree scenes between Ravi and his girlfriend Vira (played by the ultra-cute Neetu Singh, I love how Ravi told Maa she was his 'class fellow' – simply adorable - and just look at each of their expressions and how they tell a complete story)…
I love how 'Deewaar' made me think about so many fascinating issues – the complexities of mother/son relationships, the relational dynamic between siblings, the way that choices made in each echelon of society eventually trickle down (or surge up) to affect other strata… 'Deewaar' is just a really good film, everything about it just works.
But now to erm... other matters… how hot is Mr. Bachchan in this film? He totally sizzles. This is definitely one of the best Amitabh Bachchan performances I've seen so far, it's intense, raw, compelling, and has tremendous depth; so I'll get that said right now and get back to how hot he was in this film. That thick, long-ish hair, those tortured eyes, those full lips, those lanky limbs… all variously accessorised with cigarettes/bidis, fab sunglasses, nice suits… even a rope. All hella hot.
One big discovery for me with 'Deewaar' is that I have been watching the wrong Shashi Kapoor films. Honestly, I have never 'gotten' the whole Shashi thing… I've never really understood why people think he's so handsome/beautiful, so cool, such a great actor… I mean, until 'Deewaar' I was ready to admit that there's a pretty-ish face there (and some lovely, long-lashed brown eyes – always gotta love that); but looks-wise or acting-wise (aside from his beautiful face and performance as a child in 'Awaara'), I had not seen anything to make me really love Shashi…
I had seen him opposite the Big B in 'Do Aur Do Paanch', but I thought Amit-Ji totally outdid him in that film. I thought Shashi's character came across as a bit of a loser and a wuss, and I really didn’t like his miserable 'do not sleep, little children' song in the film. My sister who watched 'Do Aur Do Paanch' felt the same – since then she's refused to watch anything else with Shashi in it. I also caught Shashi in Raj Kapoor's 'Satyam Shivam Sundaram', in which he plays an engineer who is obsessed with beauty and mistreats his wife as a result… in this film Shashi was playing a silly jerk, so it was really no wonder that I didn’t think he was all that. I actually really liked Shashi's performance (again, opposite Big B) in 'Trishul', but he didn’t really 'stay with me' after the film.
But 'Deewaar'… now this is a little something to make me like Shashi a little (ok, so I didn't just like him a little in 'Deewaar', I absolutely loved him, but it's slightly galling to have to admit it now...), and it definitely makes me want some more Shashi. His performance is simply wonderful, his character is nuanced and beautifully drawn, you can really trace his arc and journey in the movie… and he ain't looking half bad doing it either…