Sunday, October 11, 2009

Deewar: The Wall

In honor of Amitabh's birthday, I'm transferring over some reviews of some of his classic films. Deewar holds a special place in Bollywood memory and the classic tension between brothers is something that still echoes through to films today. Contemporary masala can't be understood without understanding Deewar and Amitabh's Angry Young Man.

Vah vah! Kya masterpiece he! Deewar is a straight up drama with only a little dash of action and an even smaller bit of romance mixed in. The three pillars of the story are The Shash and Amitabh, as brothers on opposite sides of the law, and their mother.

The set up for the story is that Ma, The Shash (Ravi), and Amitabh (Vijay) are forced to move to Bombay when the head of the family, a union leader, sells out the union to the mine owner. Of course, his family was being held hostage by the mine owner's thugs, but that doesn't matter to the crowds who turn on him and beat him senseless. One catches hold of little Vijay and tatoos his arm with the words: Mera Baap chor hai (My father is a thief). Try coming back from that one, Vijay. So, the father leaves town and his responsibilities to ride around on trains all day and Ma takes her two sons to Bombay where she toils away on construction sites. Vijay also gets a job shining shoes and their fees together allow Ravi to attend school.

Shining shoes, young Vijay has a fateful encounter. He speaks up for the dignity of work and refuses to take a coin thrown on the ground - insisting that it be handed to him. Fast forward a bunch of years and Vijay is working as a porter and now looks like (a very hot) Amitabh Bachchan. The Shashinator is out of work and living off of the hard work of his brother.

Vijay is full of barely contained rage about everything. His place in life, the unfairness of having to work with the system, God, everything! He takes out his anger on some local thugs who had been taking protection money from the dock workers. His single handed win against the gang gets the attention of their boss.

He's hired on and proceeds to work his way up the ranks using his smarts with a healthy dose of luck. (He never manages to earn enough for that top button, though.

His mother is understandably suspicious when he starts bringing home lots of money, but when she questions him, he responds that he's not doing anything he shouldn't be. I believe that he's telling the truth as far as he's concerned. In Vijay's world view, looking out for your family is your first priority.

When his father abandoned them, Vijay stepped up as the head of the family. He slaved away trying to get an education for his brother and then to put a roof over their heads. And as The Shash dallies about trying to find work that isn't beneath his dignity, Vijay is out there hustling to put roti on the table. So, when a chance comes to play the system - instead of being played - Vijay jumps at it.

Eventually, he manages to purchase the building his mother worked on when they first arrived in Bombay.

I had a lot less sympathy for The Shashinator. He earns his degree, but can't get a job because he doesn't have connections. While his brother works his butt off as a dock worker, Ravi faffs about from interview to interview, feeling sorry for himself.

He finally uses the one connection he does have - ladyfriend Neetu - to land a job as a policewallah.

And one of the first things he manages to do is to shoot a boy stealing bread for his starving family. Will this little incident reappear later in the film? Of course!

Still able to see shades of grey, Ravi goes to deliver food to the boy's family. The boy's mother throws a fit and tries to get him to leave, not wanting Ravi's blood money, but the father - and I don't believe that the father means this - tells him that stealing is stealing whether it's 1 rupee or a lakh. Ravi takes the boy's father's words to heart and decides to go after his brother - Vijay. And here is where I lost my sympathy for Ravi. Your brother fed, clothed, and educated you. And now you are going to persecute him? While still living under his roof?!?! Ravi's sense of justice has only been allowed to come into existance because he did have his brother working away to buffer him from the harshness of the street. The wall that is between them has protected Ravi from the grey morality of the real world.

Ravi tattles on Vijay and storms out with their mother in tow. How much of Ravi's sense of justice arises from the fact that Vijay has always been his mother's favorite?

The two brothers have one more fateful meeting under the bridge where they slept when they first came to Bombay. Sadly, the bridge isn't big enough to reach over the wall built between them. Ravi's moral certitude does not allow him to listen to Vijay. (Enjoy Saif doing Vijay's famous speech in the trailer for Roadside Romeo.)

With his Ma gone - and in the hospital - Vijay strikes a deal with God asking for his mother back. This scene is amazing! It cuts back and forth between the vivid, angry Vijay and the unmoving stone God. Vijay will get his mother back, but he must give up his life in order to do so. It felt too goulish to take screencaps of everyone dying. But needless to say, Ravi ends up shooting Vijay much as he shot the young boy stealing bread for his family, which, in the end, is exactly what Vijay spent his life doing. Vijay makes it back to the temple in order to die in his mother's lap.

And Ravi gets an award for his work. He thanks his mother, who looks less than thrilled for him. I don't think Ravi was evil, but I do think that he was vindictive. He had anger, too, but instead of lashing out at the world that wronged him, while protecting his family, Ravi lashes out at the person closest to him - his brother - as if by eliminating the 'rot,' his life will be perfect.

I would be remiss if I didn't spare a word or two for Parveen Babi, who plays Vijay's girlfriend.

She's a very sympathetic vamp who falls for Vijay. (And to be fair, who wouldn't?) After his mother and brother leave him, Parveen remains his moral touchstone.

Even though she's a kept lady, she never gives up hope that she can make that meaningful switch from Western clothes to saris.


memsaab said...

Love this film. LOVE. One of the best of all time.

Heh. My verification word is crangst. Don't know why that cracks me up.

simran said...

I am dying to read your review but I don't want to read any spoilers! This movie is coming on tv Tuesday evening so I'll make sure to read your review after that :D I can't wait to watch Big B .. His tortured soul roles are amazing :)

eliza bennet said...

Unsuprisingly I too love this film.

But even though I love Amitabh and think his performance beyond perfect, as a character Vijay is not someone I sympathise with.

And even though I don't really care for Shashi neither as a heart throb nor as an actor, and his performance here was the weakes among the cast, I sympathise with his character. It is not easy to do right thing but even though life is full of grey areas, there are some very definite black and whites around. And one must do the right thing. Ravi just wanted him to stop doing what he did and give up the so called riches and live a decent life as their mother thought them to do.

Their conversation under the bridge is a good example. Vijay mentions the earthly gains but the one thing Ravi has and Vijay doesn't have is more important than all the luxuries.

Ravi wouldn't have minded if Vijay remained a dock worker and didn't earn much, his ma wouldn't have minded it either.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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