In the mid 1970’s India was going through changing times as far as the socio-political scenario was concerned. The days of the emergency which lasted for 21 months only went on to bring in a lot more discontent into the system. The common Indian who till then hardly raised his/her voice now started feeling the suffocation getting a bit too much to handle and the frustration was only creeping in all the more.
We do know that life imitates art and vice versa and cinema is art too. Indian Cinema has also more or less kept in tune with the socio-political happenings in the Country. So no wonder that Bollywood started slowly but surely moving away from the weepy romantics ( handled with ease and elan initially by Rajendra ‘Jubilee’ Kumar and later by Rajesh Khanna ) and light musical entertainers ( no one could get it as good as Shammi Kapoor ) to films reflecting the angst of the common Indian.
1975 was a landmark year in Indian History. The emergency was imposed in the middle of the year, public discontent was probably at its height and Bollywood came out with 3 big blockbusters in the year, all of them which have gone on to become landmark films and carving a place for themselves in the history of not just Hindi Cinema but Indian Cinema itself. The films in question being Jai Santoshi Maa, Sholay and Deewaar, and there’s nothing in common between these films as we all very well know. If Jai Santoshi Maa catered to the devotional sentiment of Indians, Sholay was the ultimate entertainer to look up to while Deewaar was the film which actually stayed true to the happenings in the Country at that point of time. In fact the only thing in common perhaps to both Sholay and Deewaar was the presence of Amitabh Bachchan. If Zanzeer had finally given the much needed break to Amitabh after a string of flops it was definitely Deewar which cemented his place as “The Angry Young Man of India”. In fact with Deewar and Sholay Amitabh Bachchan also went on to cement his place as the biggest star in India.
To put it simply Deewaar is nothing but the story of two brothers who have grown up the hard way and brought up single handedly by their mother, after their father could not bear the hurt being meted out to them by society. When both the brothers grow up, each of them want to tackle their past head on and reverse the injustice that’s happened to them. But there’s a difference in the paths chosen by both the brothers. Today an outline like this may not sound inspiring at all but I am not joking when I say that this was a typical Bollywood plot which worked wonderfully in 1975 and kept working even after that. Actually the basic thread was used even earlier in the form of the 1961 Dilip Kumar-Vyjayanthimala starrer-Ganga Jamuna, which again was a tale of 2 brothers taking opposite sides of the law. While Ganga Jamuna kept in mind the realities and sensibilities of that era (like Ganga i.e Dilip Kumar takes to the hills and becomes a dacoit), Deewaar on the other hand fits in very well with the mood of the 70’s.
Vijay Verma (Amitabh Bachchan) and Ravi Verma ( Shashi Kapoor ) are the sons of a trade unionist, Anand Verma ( Satyen Kappu), who was disgraced publicly by the machinations of the management of his firm using his family as bait. Unable to bear the public disgrace Anand deserts the family, and the sons are raised by their mother (Nirupa Roy) who brings them to Bombay and suffers the trials and tribulations of a poor single mother. Vijay Verma, the elder brother, grows up with an acute awareness of his father’s humiliation and is victimized for his father’s supposed misdeeds. In the process of fighting for his rights Vijay, who starts out as a boot polisher as a kid and becomes a dockyard worker in his youth, goes on to become a smuggler and a leading figure of the underworld. Ravi on the other hand chooses to join the Police and become the custodian of the law instead. With both the brothers remaining steadfast and true to their beliefs, friction was bound to happen. This is in a nutshell is the plot of Deewaar, just in case you are one of those poor unfortunate souls who is yet to watch this gem of a movie.
The film starts with a Police Awards Ceremony where the cop Ravi Verma is to receive an award for his heroic service but Ravi insists on having his mother receive the award on his behalf instead. Reluctantly the mother Sumitra Devi gets on to the stage and on hearing the cheering of the gathering is pushed into her memories of another gathering 2 decades ago, when her husband Anand Verma was calling his fellow workers for a strike. The very beginning sets the tempo for the film and makes us understand the milieu quite well. Industrial strikes and trade unionism were becoming established in the 70’s and the film deals with the subject pretty well indeed. The drunken revelers in the neighbourhood going on to seize the kid Vijay and tattooing “mera baap chor hai” is a pure cinematic moment, which though a tad exaggerated conveys the establishment of early seeds of discontent in Vijay’s mind.
The early scene in the Shiva temple when the priest asks Sumitra not to force Vijay to enter the temple is another scene well written. When a grown up Vijay who is being hounded by his own brother Ravi, finally enters the temple, the dialogues by Salim-Javed are worth their weight in gold indeed.
The dockyard portions are again a delight to watch and the whole aspect of the talisman with the number 786 which is holy for the Muslims (numerological equivalent of Bismillah i.e In the Name of God) is a smartly incorporated moment in the film. The same talisman goes on to protect Vijay when he is shot once and thus the whole angle of religious integration comes in. In what is actually the only fight scene in the film Vijay beats the entire gang of Samant’s men and goes on to become the leader of the dockyard workers. This fight scene still goes on to inspire fight scenes seen till date in films like Pokiri and Wanted.
The whole meteoric rise of Vijay Verma draws a sharp parallel to the actual life story of Haji Mastaan, a dockyard worker who went on to become one of the most powerful smugglers in Bombay of the 70’s before leaving it all to enter politics. Vijay Verma’s character is shown as someone with a lot of self esteem and pride as seen in the scene when he as a kid refuses to accept money thrown at him and later on as a young man when he meets Daavar ( Iftekhar ) again, he reminds him “ main aaj bhi phenke hue paise nahin utatha”, again a clap worthy moment in the film indeed.
In fact such magical moments are strewn throughout the film and both Yash Chopra and Salim-Javed deserve all the praise for keeping the momentum going throughout the film. The film also was bold in the way it projected one of the 2 female leads, Anita ( Parveen Babi ), a new age liberated young girl, who smokes, drinks and even sleeps with her lover Vijay before they get married. This certainly went against all Bollywood conventions of those times. In fact the scene where Vijay and Anita have a conversation while enjoying a post coital smoke surprised me too when I first saw the film as kid.
While I wouldn’t exactly describe the music by R.D.Burman to be spectacular I would still say that he did justice to the narrative as this was never meant to be a musical in the complete sense. Among all the songs “Kehdoon tumhe” remains popular even till date. On the technical side again the film was nearly perfect with Yash Chopra’s trusted lieutenants like Kay Gee (DOP), Pran Mehra (along with T.R. Mangeshkar who took care of editing) really chipped in very well with their contributions. Among the 7 Filmfare Awards that the film won, there was also one for Best Sound which went to the audiographer, M.A. Shaikh.
In terms of performances and casting Deewaar is again a near perfect film. The heroines Neetu Singh and Parveen Babi did not have much to do in the film but Parveen Babi’s character was definitely crucial to the film. Nirupa Roy once again showed that in the 70’s she was probably the best to portray the Bollywood mother. Though Shashi Kapoor played second fiddle to Amitabh Bachchan, it was nevertheless still a powerful role and very subtly played with great effect indeed by Shashi Kapoor. In fact Shashi and Amitabh went on to strike up a powerful jodi as they worked on film after film together. But in the end along with Yash Chopra and Salim-Javed, Deewar turned out to be the way it was due to Amitabh Bachchan who was simply outstanding as Vijay Verma. The film showed that he could play the angry young man with great confidence and the public just loved his act.
Deewar is not just one of the best films from Yash Chopra, Salim-Javed and Amitabh Bachchan, but also one of the best Indian films ever, period. The film also went on to establish a good working relationship between Yash Chopra and Amitabh Bachchan. And before I conclude here is a look at probably one of the most iconic scenes ever seen in Indian/Hindi Cinema.
Note- This is post is part of the special Yash Chopra Blogathon as a humble tribute from MAM to the master filmmaker, Yash Chopra. You can also check out our posts on Waqt, Kabhi Kabhie, Trishul, Kaala Patthar, Silsila, Dharamputra, Dhool Ka Phool, Aadmi aur Insaan, Mashaal, Ittefaq, Faasle-Vijay-Parampara, Darr, Daag, Chandni, Lamhe, Dil To Pagal Hai and a tribute to Yash Chopra as well.