(1975, Yash Chopra)
“As long as a brother speaks, a brother will listen. If a criminal speaks, a police officer will respond”
Ah, Bollywood. Long misunderstood in the west since much of the output tends to be either crazy remakes of Hollywood movies or over-the-top musical numbers shown completely out of context (quite often turning up on Youtube with silly subtitles). Therefore, the general consensus tends to be that those Indians are pretty wacky and have rather bizarre tastes in cinema unlike us dignified Westerners. Well, this is the first Indian movie to turn up on SvTM (without any British assistance at least…), and perhaps Deewaar will be capable of dispelling those myths.
It’s a tale of two brothers, Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) and Ravi (Shashi Kapoor), the sons of Anand Verma (Satyen Kappu), a trade unionist. When Anand is the victim of a cruel deal with the management of his mining firm, using his family as bait, he goes into hiding, leaving the sons to be raised solely by their mother (Nirupa Roy). As they grow up through the trials of living in poverty, Ravi eventually enters the police force. Vijay, however, feels the sting of his father’s “betrayal” much deeper, and in the process of trying to fight for his rights, ends up a part of the same criminal underworld he tried to fight against. And so starts a tragic tale of two brothers on opposite sides of the law and the conflict this causes.
So, for anyone expecting typical Bollywood silliness here, you’ll be largely disappointed. Oh sure, there are three song and dance numbers thrown in, but in comparison to what Bollywood is stereotypically known for, these are all pretty tame. And yes, there are some questionable and very silly moments in the editing (lightning flashes and speedy cuts when the boys’ father is asked to sign his life away, for example), but oddly, this is actually a very watchable, very heartfelt and very entertaining piece of cinema that manages to stay on the right side of sensible for much of its running time.
In fact, the entire second half of the movie is rather dark. This isn’t a fun crime caper. As the police force gets closer to Vijay’s illegal activities, the wall between the two brothers grows larger, and it’s obvious that things won’t end well. Even better, it’s played with the right level of emotion from both the two leads, particularly Bachchan. It’s easy to see why he’s such a major star of Indian cinema. He’s fantastic at showing both the cold, calculating nature of his chosen profession and the little boy inside who just loves his mother.
There were some excellent plot choices too. Seeing the perspective of both brothers worked well, and we ended up sympathising with both, despite them being on opposite sides. The concept of Vijay not being completely morally bankrupt despite being a criminal was also fantastic. Unlike, say, Scarface, where Al Pacino was a cartoonish immoral monster who loved abusing his trophy wife and stuffing his face in mountains of cocaine, Vijay is well-intentioned and shows a certain level of respect for his family and his girlfriend, and it makes all the difference. It’s also hard not to sympathise with Ravi, a man stuck between his duty as a police officer and his devotion to his brother, and Kapoor’s performance is a key part of this.
It’s very rough around the edges though. An early fight scene has some awkward choreography (with a spade visibly not hitting its intended targets on more than one occasion), some of the dramatic close-up zooms at dramatic moments can get ridiculous and sometimes the plot falls into place a little too neatly or relies too heavily on pointing out how events relate back to earlier foreshadowing. There is also some pretty bad editing on show a few times.
What’s worse, those musical sequences I mentioned conflicted with the rest of the movie so much that they may as well have not been there. Their cheerful tone was so at odds with the dark movie they occupied, they felt like they were just padding. And at nearly three hours long, it’s not a movie that needs padding. In fact, while the movie was largely well-paced, it certainly dragged a little round about the two-hour mark, and this is another major criticism I have.
And yet, it somehow all fits together nicely. There’s something incredibly entertaining about Deewaar. The characters are relatable, the action sequences are exciting despite their technical issues, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Starring Shashi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Neetu Singh, Nirupa Roy & Parveen Babi
Written by Salim-Javed
Produced by Gulshan Rai
Music by Rahul Dev Burman
Cinematography by Kay Gee
Edited by T.R. Mangeskhar and Pran Mehra
Favourite Scene: The discussion between the two brothers near the bridge they grew up living under, as they discussed the wall between them, was such a powerful scene.
Scene That Bugged Me: When the first song started up in the middle of a conversation between Ravi and his girlfriend, I felt incredibly confused, and still questioned its inclusion by the end of the movie.
Watch it if: You need convincing that Indian cinema can do more than just silly dance numbers
Avoid it if: You actually like those silly dance numbers