Deewaar: Amitabh Bachchan’s career-defining performance is deeply moving in its truthfulness and electrifying in its theatricality

Amitabh Bachchan, India’s greatest movie superstar and one of its greatest screen actors, was born on October 11, 1942. Celebrating Bachchan’s 78th birthday with some thoughts on his greatest screen performance from Deewaar (1975).

Amitabh Bachchan’s performance in Deewaar (1975) is one of the greatest in mainstream Indian cinema, if not the greatest. When i say mainstream Indian cinema, i specifically mean the larger than life, melodramatic, masala cinema, which comes with its own requirements from the performers and possesses its own grammar that should be followed by the directors, writers and the actors in tandem. Though masala cinema existed in scattershot versions even before the emergence of Bachchan and the writing duo of Salim-Javed (who wrote Deewaar), it is Salim-Javed in tandem with Bachchan who would streamline it into both a commercially and artistically coherent genre, with its own archetypes and tropes. Their first collaboration Zanjeer(1973), could be considered the first serious masala film, and it turned then struggling actor Bachchan into a bonafide star. It also introduced a new kind of hero – the angry young, who fought against the establishment. Deewaar marks the zenith of the Bachchan – Salim Javed collaboration. Salim Khan & Javed Akthar brought radical changes to how screenplays are structured, characters are developed and dialogues are written in mainstream cinema, and Bachchan was their chief weapon in implementing these changes. The Masala movies basically have a mythical narrative structure influenced from the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata; the characters are both real and mythic at the same time. they could be cops, criminals, coolies, industrialists etc., but they exist in a real yet a clearly defined, larger than life moral world where they are called upon to perform near superhuman acts. The story of Deewaar deals with the conflict between two brothers, who are on the opposite sides of the moral divide, and their mother who is caught between them. The mythology that the film references is Kunti’s story from Mahabharata, the mother caught between her illegitimate son Karna and legitimate son Arjuna. In Deewaar, Sumitra Devi (Nirupa Roy),is the Kunti surrogate and her two sons , Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) and Ravi (Shashi Kapoor) represents Karna and Arjuna respectively. Vijay, like Karna, is the bad good son, a man of great virtue , but who finds himself on the side of Adharma. Vijay, having suffered immense hardships and poverty in his life, grows up to become a gangster to support his family, While Ravi, in spite of having to suffer nearly the same hardships as his elder brother Vijay, never loses his moral center and grows up to be a cop, determined to protect Dharma at any cost (very much like Arjuna). And as in the epic, Sumitra Devi sides with her virtuous son Ravi in his fight against the criminal brother Vijay., and Ravi ends up killing his elder brother in the climax of the film, just like Arjuna killed Karna in the battle of Kurukshetra. Another parallel with the epic is the absence of the ‘father’; Sumitra Devi’s husband – who was a union leader forced to sell out his comrades – had abandoned the family, unable to bear the shame of his actions; both the sons grow up without the father to support them. Vijay starts out as a common laborer on the docks of Bombay; he subsequently gets into a world of crime, and he becomes so deeply entrenched in that world that, even when he wants to get out, he is unable to extricate himself from it. Vijay, though not an atheist, is rather angry with God for all the hardships the almighty had put him (and his mother) through in life, and refuses to worship him. But in the end, he is forced to return to god, both literally – he finally enters the temple to pray to god to save his mother – and metaphorically – he dies at the end (his reunion with god now complete) while reuniting with his mother at the very same temple. These two parallel story threads imparts a dual layer – of real and mythical – to the character of Vijay (and the film). So the actor playing Vijay needs to be good enough to combine the emotional realism and the larger than life theatricality that the role requires, and i don’t think there is any other actor in the world who could have managed to combine these elements into one whole and give a fully rounded performance as Amitabh Bachchan does here. It is more interesting to analyze Bachchan’s performance through several stages of the character’s progression in the story, and it gives more answers to the greatness of Bachchan’s performance and why he (as a star and actor) and the character\film was so path breaking in the annals of Indian cinema.

The dockworker

Bachchan’s Vijay starts out as a dockworker. We see him in his iconic knotted blue shirt with a rope tied over his shoulder and his coolie’s badge with the number 786. He is unshaven, ugly, sweaty and grimy and always chewing on a beedi; this appearance alone is a novelty for a Hindi film hero, who until then, no matter his social circumstances, always appears well groomed and well dressed. The only previous instances i can remember, where heroes were portrayed not so well groomed, are Balraj Sahni in Do Biga zameen, Guru Dutt in Pyaasa and Dilip Kumar in Ganga Jamuna, and most of those films were considered rather off-beat for its times, rather than a full blooded commercial film that Deewaar was intended to be. Also Bachchan in this film does not sing any songs or indulge in any romantic courtship, which is again a big novelty fir a Hindi film hero, who, till then were predominantly romantic heroes who are called upon to sing at least one song in a film. The character of Vijay has elements of Marlon Brando’s ‘bum’ longshoreman Terry Molloy from On the Waterfront and Dilip Kumar’s poor illiterate peasant in Ganga Jamuna. And as in On the Waterfront, there are corrupt union members under the leadership of Peter, working for the mob boss Samant (Madan Puri), who regularly extract ‘Hafta’ (extortion money) from the dock workers. In the midst of all this, Vijay is a simmering volcano, who is about to burst any time, and it finally does when one of the dockworkers are killed for refusing to pay the ‘Hafta’. Next time, Vijay refuses to pay and beats up Peter’s man who demand money from him. The moment of Vijay’s transformation is played by Bachchan through an astounding close up: After the death of the fellow dockworker, the workers have assembled in a the nearby tea stall and drinking tea. While the rest of the workers are making small talk, Vijay is silent and lost in deep thought, his left hand fisted on his head and he is smoking a beedi, but his face conveys everything we need to know: he is thinking about his past life, his father who abandoned his comrades and his family in a moment of crisis, and is he also going to do the same?, is he not going to stand up against this oppression?. Finally, having made a decision that is going to change his life forever, he stands up and tell his pal, Rahim Chacha, that from tomorrow onwards, one more person will refuse to give hafta. So the next day when Peter’s goon comes demanding Hafta he refuses to pay, and when forced, he beats him up. These entire portions set on the docks plays out like a docudrama, with Bachchan giving one of the most truthful interpretations of an illiterate, impoverished, unsophisticated dockworker. He also gives subtle indications of the mythical, larger than life hero he will soon grow into through the course of the film.

The fight in the warehouse

This is the mother of all masala fight scenes in Indian cinema. For the first time, we see a hero taking the fight to his adversaries. After Vijay refuses to pay the ‘Hafta’ and beats up Peter’s man, Peter and his gang searches high and low for Vijay, but cannot find him anywhere, and as they return to their warehouse, we see that Vijay is already there, sitting comfortably on a chair with his legs stretched out. Then Vijay goes and lock the door of the warehouse and throw the key to Peter. He tell him that he will open the door only after taking the key out of Peter’s pocket – one of the most popular dialogue in Indian film history (“isse apne jeb mein rakh le Peter, ab main thala tere jeb se chabi nikal kar hi kholunga”). This cool, macho avatar of the hero was never seen before on Indian screen. Then the fight breaks out between Vijay and Peter & Gang. At one point in the fight , his adversaries get the better of him, but then Vijay recovers to beat the goons to a pulp, and as he promised at the beginning of the fight, he takes the key out of Peter’s pocket and opens the door. The fight scene is a pivotal moment in both the film and Bachchan’s career. Deewaar is usually considered a very violent film, but actually it has just this one fight, except for the climax. The placement, picturisation and Bachchan’s performance is so powerful that this moment resonates throughout the film. Bachchan is so convincing fighting 7 guys at a time, he makes a strong case as to why Indian cinema never needed, or does not need, superheroes. The superheroic strength of the masala hero comes, not from the biting of a spider, but from the collective yearning of the (downtrodden) masses, who forms the majority of the cinema going audience and who face the same elements of oppression everyday and are powerless to overcome them, but in the darkened cinema hall, through this larger than life hero, they manages to accomplish it. Till Bachchan came along, they never had a believable hero who could fully act as their ‘deliverer’ on screen. Bachchan, with his 6 foot plus physique, unconventional, masculine face, deep baritone voice, fiery dialogue delivery and his cool, macho attitude was the perfect antidote the disillusioned masses, especially the youth, were looking for. Bachchan does most of his stunts himself – again a novelty for a Hindi film hero – and it goes a long way in adding conviction to the scene. It could be safely said that this is the scene that turned Bachchan, the star into Bachchan the superstar. This scene will be emulated in countless masala films, but never with the same impact, simply because the actor fighting is not Amitabh Bachchan. His fire and conviction in beating up the goons convinces the audience that an ordinary dockworker can beat up 7 ferocious thugs. This is truly the big masala moment in the film, when we see an ordinary man turn into a godly hero. As masala cinema would grow in the subsequent decades and the concept of superstardom will increase by leaps and bounds, the number of goons that the hero would fight off singlehandedly will increase from 7 to 70 and even 700, stretching the limits of what can be achieved within the masala template; sometimes leading to the creation of merely ‘mass’ movies – without a strong masala world to hold it- which exist only to service the ego of the superstar and his fans. This will be one of the reasons why serious masala movies would die out. Bachchan himself will be called upon to deliver even more fantastical fights and superheroic sequences in his future movies, and somehow or the other, he always had the ability to breathe conviction into even the most far fetched scenes even when the film surrounding him became more and more ridiculous. This is one of the reasons why Bachchan remained successful over and above any star\actor in Indian cinema.

The meeting with Davar

After defeating Peter and his men, Vijay is acquainted with Samant’s rival don Davar (Ifthekar). Davar invites him to his office and makes him an offer that he cannot refuse: “Work for me and you will never be poor again in life”. Vijay knows that this is a defining moment in his life and he takes the time to ponder about it. We see Bachchan striking his iconic pose; his heads bowed down, his hands akimbo and he looks out of the glass window of the skyscraper into the streets below and reminisces about the time when he and his brother arrived in the city with their mother – dressed in rags, all alone and poor. That image is all he needs to accept Davar’s offer. But the scene is not finished yet, it reaches a terrific climax with another reminiscence by Vijay; actually Vijay and Davar shares a brief history; as a child Vijay was a shoe polisher and Davar, a young don, used to come around to bet on race horses; and once after polishing his shoes ,one of Davar’s men had thrown down the money to Vijay and Vijay had demanded they give the money in his hand as he is not a beggar. Here again, after Vijay had accepted his offer, Davar takes a bundle of notes and throws it down on the table. Vijay looks at it for a moment and then says exactly 3 lines, which are kind of staccato, but gets across his point

“Mr. Davar, some years ago you used to play race horses

And you used to stop your car at a particular place and had your shoes polished

Even today i do not take thrown away money”

Now Davar remembers the fiery kid, he apologizes, picks up the money and give it to Vijay by hand. The scene showcases Salim-Javed’s skill with dialogue; it is punchy and economical and every line of dialogue doesn’t have to logically link to one another. The emotional logic is more important, and of course to fully make it work, you need someone lie Amitabh Bachchan to deliver the lines at the right pitch with the right body language to go with it; everyone from Mani Rathnam to Ram Gopal Varma had tried to emulate this writing style, but without the same success. The ‘Echo’ aspect of this scene: the meeting between Vijay and Davar mirroring the meeting with the young Vijay and Davar years ago – bound together by that line of dialogue – is also an important aspect of masala cinema.

The first Mission

After being recruited by Davar into his gang, Vijay gets his first mission: to bring the gold (smuggled from overseas) safely into their warehouse without being hijacked by Samant’s gang. Vijay wants to do it alone – His cocky line is: he doesn’t think he can do it alone, he knows he can do it alone. Davar allows him to do that. So Vijay hatches a plan. He goes directly to Samant and make an offer to sell out Davar. He gives Samant the information as to when and where Davar’s gold is coming and how he can get it. Samant keeps Vijay a hostage until he gets the gold; as expected Samant’s gang is successful in capturing the gold, which they move to their warehouse. Vijay gets his ‘commission’ from Samant and promises to deliver information regarding Davar’s next shipment very soon. Then Vijay barges into Samant’s warehouse, steals the gold and takes it safely to Davar’s, thus managing to successfully complete his first mission and earning the respect of Davar. Bachchan plays Vijay’s self-confidence as bordering on arrogance and a firm belief in his own destiny. What is quiet startling in these scenes is his metamorphosis – both in his appearance and his attitude; from a sweaty, unshaven Dockworker he becomes a well groomed, well dressed urban man, confidently striking deals with his opponent. The most interesting scene takes place in Samant’s office; after Samant is informed that gold has reached the warehouse safely, Samant takes out his gun and tells Vijay that now that he has got the gold, Vijay is useless, so why shouldn’t he kill him?. Vijay is unflustered and tells him that he can be the goose that continue to lay the golden eggs, so it is better to keep him alive. Samant, who understands now the Vijay would be useful in future also, replies that he was “just joking”. Vijay’s retort: ” I know you were joking”. Bachchan’s reading of this line is to die for, coupled with his facial expression – a wry smile giving way to a a Stony face; the mixture of sarcasm and coldness he manages to convey is unbelievable. i never fail to laugh out loud at this line.

Meeting with Anita

Though Deewaar is a masculine drama of conflict between brothers or at the most, a “love triangle” between a mother and 2 sons, Parveen Babi got to play a truly unique character in Anita- a women of easy virtue, who casually hooks up with Vijay; they start living together and when she gets pregnant, she does not force him to marry her. It was a first of a kind role in Hindi cinema, where heroines are always pious and virtuous and they never get into a sexual relationship outside marriage. here we get to see Vijay and Anita in bed, both drinking and smoking freely. The first meeting between Vijay and Anita is a really good scene: The setting is a five star hotel, and Vijay is having a couple of drinks while he waits for Samant’s killers to spot him. He had concocted a plan to get his spy inside Samant’s gang. The spy will gain Samant’s confidence by giving him the exact time when Vijay will come out of the hotel unarmed, so that they will get a clear shot at him. Now Vijay is waiting for the right time so that he can come out of the hotel, and thus the spy’s information is going to be correct and he will be recruited into Samant’s gang. Anita approaches Vijay at the bar and tries to makes his acquaintance. It is obvious that she is looking for some easy sex and may be money as well. He first tries to avoid her with the line: “Who wants to die that he\she wants to be with me right now”, but she persists, And as they talk, it comes time for Vijay to leave. As Vijay pays his bills and leave he forgets to take his old 786 number badge – which is his lucky charm and he still carries around with him. Anita notices it and chases after him with it, and it is at this exact moment that Samant’s men fire at him, they miss, and Vijay grabs Anita into his car and drive away safely. One interesting aspect of this scene is the costume that Bachchan is wearing, it looks utterly funny and ridiculous , and it is to Bachchan’s credit that he carries it off, otherwise the scene would have fallen flat. Babi was never a great actress, and was more famous for her exotic looks. She, along with Zeenat Aman, represented the new breed of ‘bold’ modern actresses who emerged in the 70s. Bachchan’s scenes with Babi brings out the more tender and vulnerable side of Vijay. Bachchan and Babi would go on to do several films together and their sizzling chemistry is very palpable in this film.

The first confrontation between Vijay and Ravi

After Ravi becomes a cop, he realizes that Vijay is a dreaded criminal. He decides to confront his brother in front of their mother. He has prepared a statement for Vijay to sign, in which Vijay confesses to his crimes and agrees to surrender to the law. Vijay is first disturbed to realize that his mother and brother knows the reality that he is a criminal, but then his self-righteousness takes over, and he implicitly tries to justify his chosen path in life by reminding Ravi about the humiliation and hardships they all had to suffer since their abandonment by their father. But Ravi is in no mood to listen and decides to walk out of the house with their mother, as he cannot share a house with a criminal. Vijay insists that mother is going to stay with him; he is arrogant enough to believe that since whatever he has done in his life is for his mother she is going to stand by him no matter what. But his mother surprises him by siding with Ravi. It is true that she loves Vijay more than anything in this world; she has seen him suffer through life after being (literally) branded the son a thief – he carries around as a tattoo on his hand that says “My father is a thief”. So the last thing she expected him to do was to brand her as the mother of a thief. Hence she doesn’t want to have anything do with him or his ill gotten wealth anymore. She leaves the house along with Ravi. His mother’s reaction shocks Vijay, he was so wrapped up in his self-righteousness, his arrogance and his newly acquired wealth and power that he never thought about the fact that his criminal actions will have such terrible consequences. This scene is the dramatic high point of the film, a purely theatrical, melodramatic scene that comes alive and becomes real due to the terrific writing and acting. Bachchan goes through a series of emotions in this one scene. From hurt, anger, arrogance, belligerence, defiance, sadness and finally cold resignation. His dialogue delivery, as always, is impeccable, spitting out Salim-Javed’s terrific punchlines to perfection.

The Second confrontation between Vijay and Ravi

After the rift between Vijay and Ravi, Ravi continues to push on in his efforts to destroy Davar’s gang, thus making him their number one enemy. Now Davar want him dead, but Vijay cannot allow that. He promises Davar that he will make sure that Ravi gets a transfer to some other city. Vijay calls Ravi to the same place where they had lived (in poverty) as children. At the meeting Vijay tries to reason with him to leave town as his life is in danger, but the noble Ravi will have none of it, he is duty bound to continue in his mission to finish off organized crime in the city. When his pleading fails to work, Vijay resorts to mocking him; they were brothers who came from the same footpath, but now Vijay is rich and powerful beyond their wildest dreams, while Ravi is just a government employee with a minimal salary. Vijay has bungalows, cars, properties, bank balance , what the hell dies Ravi have?, Ravi’s cool retort to all this mocking is one simple line, which again became one of the greatest lines in movie history: ” I have mother” (“mere paas ma hain”). Vijay knows that he is beaten and Bachchan plays Vijay as a man who has been brought down to ground from a pedestal. His arrogance, his sense of superiority, all evaporated in a moment. In both these confrontation scenes, we see the moral pendulum of the film shifting from Vijay to Ravi; in both these scenes Vijay does not have the backing of the authors, the scenes are designed to turn the audience against him ; the punchlines, whether from the mother or the brother, land against him, so it is a testimony to Bachchan’s magnificence that even in these scenes we are still rooting for him.

Confrontation with God

This is the another of those great, seminal masala scenes in the film, which many subsequent films had tried to emulate. After being separated from Vijay, Sumitra Devi falls ill. Ravi gets her admitted to the hospital. Vijay, who is now on the run from the law, cannot go to the hospital and meet his mother; Ravi has placed a strong police cordon around the hospital so that the moment Vijay shows his face. he could be arrested. Unable to meet his mother, and realizing that she may be dying, Vijay decides to turn to god for saving his mother’s life; the same god he had angrily turned away from when he was a kid. But he is not willing to go down without a fight. He stands in front of god and speaks to him one to one; an in doing so, he elevates himself to the stature of a god. This is the most theatrical moment in the film. Bachchan’s Vijay delivers a lengthy, angry monologue of Shakespearean proportions. This scene showcases the full genius of Bachchan. Instead of a monologue, he turns it into a ‘real’ dialogue between him and god, as if he is ‘reacting’ to what god has done. Any other actor – even great actors like Laurence Olivier or Dilip Kumar – would have turned this into a self-absorbed, self-indulgent ‘Acting’ performance. Bachchan’s performance reminded me of Marlon Brando’s great take on “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” speech from Julius Ceaser(1953), where again Brando played it as a ‘reaction’ scene rather than an ‘acting’ scene. Salim Javed outdid themselves in writing this monologue, which goes something like this:

Aaj, khush to bahut hoge tum. Dekho. Jo aaj tak tumhari mandir ki seedhiya nahi chadha, jisne aaj tak tumhare saamne sar nahi jhukaaya, jisne aaj tak kabhi tumhaare saamne haath nahi jode, woh aaj tumhaare saamne haath phailaaye khada hai. Bahut khush hoge tum. Bahut khush hoge ki aaj main haar gaya. Lekin tum jaante ho ki jis waqt main yahan khada hoon, woh aurat jiske maathe se tumhaari chaukhat ka patthar ghis gaya, woh aurat jis par julm badhe to uski pooja badhi, woh aurat jo zindagi bhar jalti rahi lekin tumhare mandir mein deep jalaati rahi, woh aurat, woh aurat aaj zindagi aur maut ke sarhad pe khadi hai, aur yeh tumhari haar hai. Haan, yeh tumhaari haar hai. Kya kasoor hai uska? Kaun sa paap, kaunsa jurm kiya hai usne? Kya uska jurm yeh hai ki woh meri maa hai? Kya uska jurm yeh hai ki usne mujhe janam diya hai? Kya uska jurm yeh hai ki main usse pyaar karta hoon? Yeh, yeh kis jurm ki sazaa dee jaa rahi hai usey? Hum ghar se beghar ho gaye, mera baap jeetejee mar gaya, meri maa suhaagan hote hue vidhwa bani rahi. Maine tumse kabhi kuchh nahi maanga. Lekin aaj, aaj maangta hoon. Mere gunaaho ki sazaa meri maa ko mat do. Main apne aap ko tumhaare hawaale kar raha hoon. Jo chaahe kar lo, lekin, lekin meri maa mujhe vaapis de do, meri maa mujhe vaapis de do. Meri maa mujhe vaapis de do.”

Watch Bachchan’s sudden burst of anger when he says “woh aaj tumhaare saamne haath phailaaye khada hai” (He is standing in front of you with his arms stretched) or the change in his voice when every time he says “Woh Aurat”(That woman), and then the climax of the speech when his voice breaks and tears well up in his eyes. Its a tour de force of acting. he has turned a wildly theatrical moment into something totally real, even as it remains a very ‘larger than life masala’ moment. The effect is electrifying. No other actor would have done it – for additional confirmation, watch the several language remakes of Deewaar and see the performance of the actors, which are laughably bad. This and the warehouse fight scene alone explains Bachchan’s immense popularity and longevity as a superstar\super actor.

The Great death scene

After Vijay pleads with god, Sumitra Devi returns to life- another one of those ‘Quasi miracle’ moments which is again a part of masala cinema. Once his mother becomes healthy, his faith in almighty is restored; he decides to quit his life as a criminal. Another thing that inspires him to take this decision is that Anita becomes pregnant, now as a father to be, he doesn’t want to write on his son’s forehead that his father is a thief. He calls up his mother and tells her that he will meet with her at the temple and then he would surrender to police. But circumstances conspire against him again. Samant, who has been looking for an opportunity to take revenge on Vijay, barges into his flat when Vijay is not there and kills Anita. An enraged Vijay walks into Samant’s den and kill Samant and all his men. But Ravi has already surrounded the area with his policemen. Vijay makes a run for it but Ravi catches up with him and shoots him down. Even in a near death state, Vijay somehow manages to make it to the temple, where his mother is waiting for him. The final moments see him hanging on to the temple bells – and they ring out loudly, symbolizing his return to the lord’s fold – and collapsing in front of his mother. He finally dies in his mothers lap. This great death scene is one of many iconic death scenes that Bachchan would do in his career, and it is very similar to Dilip Kumar’s death scene in Ganga Jamuna. Vijay struggles and struggles to speak some last words to his mother, before finally succumbing to his bullet wounds. Later that year, he will enact another iconic death scene in the blockbuster Sholay, which was also written by Salim Javed.

I’m afraid the film has not dated well, no thanks to Yash Chopra’s average direction and the heavy use of those horrible zoom lenses which were in vogue in the 70s. Though Yash Chopra is a famous director, i have always found him very ordinary. Except for the films written by Salim Javed, the films he made are rather terrible – Joshila, Daag, Silsila, Faasle, Vijay, Chandni etc . His direction of this film is very flat, the takings are just serviceable, just enough to transfer Salim Javed’s brilliant script on to the screen. The film is still a riveting watch only because of the writing and acting, especially of Bachchan’s. Compare this with the great work done by Ramesh Sippy in his collaborations with Salim Javed and Bacchant – Sholay, Shaan. Shakthi – and you’ll see the difference. Those films are so brilliantly directed and executed with such technical perfection that even today they appear fresh. Those movies are more than the sum total of writing and acting and becomes, over and above all, a director’s film.

Also for today’s viewers, It must be most surprising to note that this film that’s so steeped in Hindu religion and its mythology is written by two Muslim writers. But that was par for the course, once upon a time in Indian cinema (maybe not even long as that either). This could never be possible in today’s India; if two Muslim writers had written a script showing a Hindu hero lashing out at Lord Siva and being protected by a badge carrying the number 786 , then there would be riots. The way the badge, Billa no 786 is used in the film is one of the greatest instances of ‘secular’ symbolism used in movies. In Mahabharata, Karna is protected by his Kavach & Kundal, as long as he has it with him, he is indestructible. Knowing this, Arjuna’s father, Lord Indra, slyly ‘steals’ it from him, and this enables Arjuna to kill Karna in the battlefield. In Deewaar, the Billa No.786 works as Vijay’s Kavach & kundal; the armor that protects him at every stage in his life. But in the climax, while being chased by his cop brother Ravi, Vijay loses it, and once he loses it, he becomes ‘mortal’ so to speak, as he is shot and killed by Ravi immediately. Also in the beginning of the film we see Vijay angrily turning away from god, but once he becomes a dockworker, the badge he is given bears the mark 786, and his coworker Rahim Chacha explains to him that 786 is sacred to the Muslims and it is like ‘Om’ is for Hindus. In a way it suggests that even if Vijay has turned his back on the almighty, god is still with him – in one form or the other – and will protect him throughout his life. This is the kind of depth and detail that Salim and Javed, or for that matter, to a lesser extend other Masala filmmakers like Prakash Mehra and Manmohan Desai used to impart to their movies. We don’t have writers like Salim Javed anymore, neither do we have a pan Indian, pan religious, pan linguistic superstar like Amitabh Bachchan. Amitabh Bachchan, Salim Javed and the film Deewaar are not just representative of a cinema culture that has become extinct, but also representative of an India that is fast becoming history.


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