Even 30 years since its release, Yash Chopra’s Deewar still has a lot going for it: classic Amitabh Bachchan as Vijay, leggy and brooding, in full angry-young-man mode, the breathy voice and soft eyes of Shashi Kapoor as Ravi, the Dudley Doright brother of the family, compelled to pursue his bad boy brother.
The story revolves around the love triangle of the two boys and their mother, the long-suffering Nirupa Roy, as the three struggle to survive in 1970s Bombay (and wow, does it look tidy and uncrowded). They find themselves in this situation after the father, a coal miner and would-be union organizer, is forced to betray the striking workers because the mine’s owner has taken his family hostage. After cutting a deal and securing their release, he runs away in disgrace, riding around endlessly on trains. His son Vijay is caught by some angry villagers and forcibly tattooed with the words “My father is a thief”.
Having made their way to Bombay, mother and sons live under a bridge with many other poor people. Their mother tries to eke out a living as a construction worker. Ravi, ever the good boy, dreams of returning to school, and so Vijay turns shoeshine boy to earn the school fees for him. In a telling moment, two obviously well off men stop to have their shoes, and when one of them throws money to Vijay, the boy tells him “I polish shoes, I don’t beg. Pick up that coin and hand it to me.” The other man comments to his associate “That boy will go far. He’s a long distance runner.” Vijay’s pride flares to anger when the boss at the construction site where his mother works insults her, and he throws a brick, hitting the boss in the head.
Flash forward and the boys are now adults. Ravi is dating a police chief’s daughter and looking for work (unsuccessfully), eventually deciding to become a policeman himself, since he has no influential contacts to get him in through the door for an interview. Vijay works on the docks as a coolie, sauntering around confidently, with his rope (that the coolies use to haul boxes) casually tossed around his neck like a scarf. His badge number is 786, which he learns from an older Muslim man he befriends, is lucky and will bring him prosperity. After standing up to a mafia thug who takes a portion of every coolie’s wages, Vijay catches the eye of the thug’s well-dressed mafia boss and soon has a job himself, eventually becoming so successful that he buys a huge house for his mother and brother to live in with him, and he even buys the apartment building that his mother had been working on when Vijay through the brick at her boss.
But, given that Ravi has now become a policeman, of course their stories dovetail and Ravi confronts Vijay, asking him to give up the life of crime. When Vijay refuses, Ravi and their mother move out, determined to return to a lower standard of living, rather than live under the roof of a mobster, even if he’s family. Shortly after, Ravi finds himself obliged to hunt down his own brother, to the conclusion of the film.
One aspect of the movie that surprised me, given that it was released in 1975, is how open the portrayal is of Vijay’s relationship with the prostitute, Anita (played by the recently deceased Parveen Babi, whose latter years and end of life were sad, when not tragic, compared to how it was at the time Deewar). The two meet at a very mod, carousel-themed (yes, really) hotel bar, where he has come on business. She is seated at the bar, in a shiny, long red dress with two thigh-high slits, drinking by herself. When she gets talking to Vijay and their mutual attraction is apparent, she blows smoke at him, which he inhales with pleasure, in a brief moment of sensuality. Her clothes and the drinking and smoking indicate outwardly that she’s not the good girl you’d bring home to Maa because she’s good bahu material, but we learn later that she aspires to the same as all women were assumed to hope for then: marriage and children.
One scene shows a shirtless, post-coital Amitabh sitting up in bed, shoulder-to-shoulder with Parveen, as she lights a cigarette and passes it to him. I think I actually gasped out loud at the sight of the Big B’s nipples peeking out over the top of the folded sheet, not because of his near nudity (though, come to think of it, in how many other films has he appeared so scantily clad?), but rather because today, we rarely, if ever, see a man and woman (hero or heroine, or both) together in bed in a Hindi movie, except if they’re married or it’s a dream sequence, or it’s a sex farce like Masti or Kya Kool Hai Hum.
At a particularly dramatic moment in the film, there’s a fantastic scene where Vijay, who always refused to enter the temple any time he accompanied his mother and Ravi, now does go in to the temple, and looking upward, angry and hurt, addresses God, opening with “You must be very happy today.” Amitabh has a similar – though much shorter and less angry – scene in Amar, Akbar, Anthony.
One of the treats of seeing an older movie, especially one from the ’70s or ’80s, is the opportunity to consider what was the peak of fashion at that time, and boy, this movie does not disappoint. More so than the women, it’s the men’s clothes that leave a lasting impression. There’s the poster classic shot of Amitabh in the godown, blue shirt, long beige-clad legs stretched out before him, cigarette in mouth. In another scene, he arrives to meet with his fellow mafiosi at a Bombay hotel pool and bar, in a turtleneck, blazer and bellbottom pants. Though the clothes are certainly dated, given Amitabh’s height and smoldering good looks, he’s able to pull almost all ensembles off successfully, with one exception. There is a laugh out loud moment when we see him at the bar where he meets Anita, all done out in (I kid you not) a black and white polka dot vest and bow tie, together with a black shirt and suit. This excruciating fashion violation is balanced out later when, at their father’s funeral, Ravi is dressed in the traditional plain white kurta pajama, but Vijay shows up a bit late, and, cool man of style that he is, wearing a pair of white flared trousers and white mod shirt, several buttons open from the neck down.
The baddies are memorable too, as they usually are in Hindi movies, for their atrocious bad taste in all things design-related, as they revel in their polyester safari suits, Qiana shirts, fat velvet lapels and swollen bow ties. We may be poorer, but we can comfort ourselves with thoughts like “Even if I had his kind of money, I’d still never have a taxidermied jaguar in a glass case sitting in my dining room” or “If that guy’s lapels were any wider, they’d wrap around his shoulders and be continued on his back.” The exception is Davar, an Oleg Cassini-looking man, the original Dapper Don, chauffeured around Bombay in a huge American boat of a car, always impeccably turned out.
The music, though a suitable accompaniment to the film, contains nothing so exuberant or melodic to have me looking to see where I could get myself a copy of the soundtrack.
See it or skip it?
See it! This is one of the movies that made Amitabh Bachchan and it is a classic. And, as Rachel Dwyer points out in her 100 Bollywood Films, it marks an interesting time in Hindi cinema where the hero is actually an anti-hero.