Saturday, April 26, 2008

Deewaar

First of all, a big thank you to reader Tulsi, who sent me my very own copy of Deewaar! Thanks, Tulsi! You made my day.

[If you call a one-sentence description of how the movie doesn't end a spoiler, then beware of spoilers.]

Deewaar won't get out of my head. I'm not sure what I make of it, and I'm not sure what the filmmakers wanted me to take away from it. It's sad. It's bleak. No bad deed is unpunished but no good deed is simple. The walls of Deewaar divide, not protect. The structures the characters inhabit are significant - the smuggler's dirty-money posh bungalow, the policeman's honest but modest rooms, the temple, the locked door of the warehouse where Vijay rains down justice on the extortionists - and it is meaningful when someone crosses from one into another. Even the construction of a wall injures our beloved Maa and leaves her vulnerable to demeaning, heartless creeps.

And what about that famous line, "Mere paas Maa hai": triumph or hope? For me the impact of this line was less from the words - I knew it was coming, and it seemed just the kind of thing that earnest and crushed Ravi would say - and far more from the context and what had come before. It's just the two brothers out in the street in the dark. When it's all over, is this scene what the movie is about? These two people who have made different choices and have to figure out how (or even whether, this being filmi) to live with the effects, fighting over the thing that binds them and never able to ignore their shared tragic origin? By the time Vijay confronts Ravi and he makes his famous retort, it was clear that poor Ravi really didn't have Maa at all. This is his great, sad tragedy, that no matter how many good things he does, he will never really have her, not wholly, not whole-heartedly.

Vijay's tragedy is a little less compelling to me. Carrying the mark of society's hatred of your vanished father, despite you being utterly innocent, is a horrible thing to live with grow up, but Vijay knew his choice to enter a life of crime was wrong and dangerous. "Choose" might be the operative word: if by the age of 13 or so you've seen one parent be driven out of town in shame/fear and the other suffer abuse despite her upstanding life, and then you volunteer to sacrifice your own childhood to provide opportunities for your baby brother, then maybe you don't feel that you have many choices open to you (after all, the educated and cheerful brother has little job luck either). But I think Vijay took the easier path of those the film makes open to him, and he gets the punishment that a filmi world demands. I really wasn't expecting the end, though; somehow I thought there would be reconciliation, that Vijay would leave his life of crime and die protecting Ravi from the avenging mob he left behind, and the fact that the movie ends as it does has left me feeling very uneasy. To my eyes, it's so distressing that he takes his mother and brother down with him - his choice (or whatever you want to call it, his life as he lives it) dooms his brother to fratricide and his mother to witnessing the loss of her greatest love in the setting of her safest place.* (Contrast this to Yash Chopra's later but similarly socially-themed Kaalaa Patthar, in which only the criminals suffer.)

It's just all so horribly sad. There was no good way out of this story. I could go on and on - I've been thinking about this movie nonstop in the days since I saw it - but I think this is the bottom line, the point to which all my questions and frustrations with the story return. It's very interesting but full of unfairness and inequity from both individuals and the world at large. There are a few tiny comforts in the movie, and they seem to come from the women, underdeveloped as they are. (The Maa character left me with yet more questions: why does she love Vijay more - and why does she say so?) (And what a waste of Neetu Singh, eh? She had nothing to do.) But they don't last and they aren't really integrated into the story. Nothing is easy here.

Before I stop writing, I have to name my favorite moment (other than the fabulous Aruna Irani qawwali), because it is so powerful and great: Vijay confronting Shiva in the temple, challenging the god to explain why his mother suffers so, to finally offer some help after her years of devotion. One thing I admire about Vijay is that he lashes out only when it's merited, and if I had had his life, I'd be screaming at the universe too.

* You could also argue that Ravi should have stuck to his original desire not to take on the smuggling case involving his brother and that by taking on the case he too is implicit in the tragedy. One could also argue that a real police commander would never assign an officer to a case that might require him to kill his own brother, but never mind.

23 comments:

a ppcc representative said...

Ughh. Deewaar. Why don't I get this movie? Like get get it? I read things about it - such as your post - and I'm like, "Gush, that sounds like such a great movie, I should see it! Oh, wait, I have."

Everything about it does seem quite epically tragical: the narrative is almost Greek, isn't it, with the whole inevitable "choices" and familycide and Mom's preference for Vijay. I read an interesting article which Westernized its interpretation, saying it was Cain and Abel-esque. I love the symbolism of the walls. And it all has a wonderful symmetry.

Actually, I always thought the reason I never connected with this movie is that I never connected with Vijay. And if you watch it from Ravi's POV (or Neetu's, which is more how I felt, LOL!), it seems sad but not so blatantly sacrificial and ironic. Maybe? I'm not sure.

Another reason I think I don't get this is that I saw this after Suhaag, which I LOVED, and Suhaag is unfortunately a bit of a piss-take of Deewaar at times.

OK, enough about me me me. Loved the review - you make excellent points about the all those damn deewaarein. Have you finished Duniya Meri Jeb Mein yet? B/c I'm dying for your reactions to it!

Beth said...

You have no idea how happy I am to hear you say you didn't get it. I definitely don't get it either, and you'll note I didn't say in the review whether I thought the movie really worked for me. I really have been spending a lot of time thinking about the movie, and talking with people who have seen it (who all respond to my comment that I don't get it by saying something ending with "?!?"), but every time I come to an assessment or view that is offered as an "answer," I think "yes, but..." or just feel uneasy. Nothing in the world of this movie sits easy with me, I think partly because I personally do not respond well to the notions of duty and sacrifice as they tend to get played out in Bollywood. Even reading the Iowa Mac Daddy about this didn't help me. I just end up thinking, "Wow, this is distressing."

And boy do I feel you about Vijay. I kept wanting to tell him "THIS IS WRONG. NOTHING GOOD WILL COME OF THIS." It's even worse from Ravi's point of view (which I tried too), because everything is so wildly unfair. I myself tend to be a good egg, and the idea of looking on one's life and wondering why your mom prefers the violent, immoral (according to 70s filmi standards) son makes me crazy. And then Ravi is the one who ends up actually being a killer?!? Nahiiiin!

I asked somebody why their relationship with Maa was of such extreme importance to the brothers, and she responded "You might as well ask someone to explain Indian culture." We've all heard joking references to Indian men and their mothers, but beyond that general cultural trope, I don't know what's going on with Maa - to me she seems a mega stereotype with no actual personality or character. All this energy put into a person the viewers know very little about. So chalk that one up as another thing that I don't get.

In the end I feel like I've been hit on the head with a shovel. A shovel with "TRAGIC" written on it in bright red letters. It's all too much and a little ridiculous.

And I'd like to point out that if in 1975 the Indian federal government had the law about education being free and compulsory, Maa was a criminal by not sending both boys to school (understandable with the financial situation, but still illegal), adding another line to Vijay's tattoo.

Beth said...

I also meant to say that I have spent some time wondering if part of the reason I am not deeply moved by Deewaar is that I was not steeped in Indian culture since birth, but then I realized that none of the people I've talked to about Deewaar yet were either. So maybe it's just me. And PPCC.

Elizabeth said...

I'm trying to remember when I saw Deewar. It was a while back, and I also remember being kind of devastated by it. Thinking... "This cannot end well. Why is he-Wha?? THIS CANNOT END WELL!!!" It was frustrating. And reeeeeaaaaally sad. I am getting stressed thinking about it.

Beth said...

Elizabeth - First, nice name! :) Second, absolutely. It's a very stressful story.

Bollyviewer said...

Finally, somebody who does not think Deewar is the greatest movie ever! Beth and PPCC, you both are far kinder to the movie than I'd ever bring myself to be. As PPCC points out, Suhaag was also a lot like Deewar. But unlike Suhaag, Deewar is a masala movie that takes itself too seriously and lands up being awfully preachy and annoying. I dont think Indian cultural upbringing guarantees liking it, either! As someone who grew up in India and is "steeped in Indian culture since birth", I cant understand its appeal at all. The fact that it has Shashi Kapoor getting the short end of the stick has absolutely nothing to do with it! ;-) Seriously though, the movie's dialogues and situations have been copied and parodied so often that when I watched it for the first time recently, it was like seeing a series of cliches unfold!

Beth said...

Bollyviewer - I agree that it takes itself too seriously given that it makes a lot of use of character types and storytelling techniques that we often seen in masala films, which makes them seem even more dramatic (but to my eyes not in a good way) than they do usually. Like right before "Mere paas Maa hai," the camera jumps back and forth between Amitabh's and Shashi's faces about four times. I had to laugh, even though laughing was obviously not appropriate to anything else in the scene. But honestly!

As for the steeping, I hope it didn't sound like I meant that anyone growing up in Indian culture would automatically like this movie. I just meant that sometimes I am certain their are cultural resonances in films that I don't pick up on or relate to. The concept of sacrifice as it is used and dramatized in movies is one of them. But like I said, before I wrote this up, I talked to three other goris about it (one American, one Canadian, one German), and they all had very positive things to say. Whenever I watch a movie generally considered "great" - and as PPCC said, that's certainly the impression I had of Deewaar going in - and I either do not get it, am not moved by it, and/or do not like it, I have to remind myself to stop and wonder what cultural context I'm missing.

Also, I can't believe this is the only performance Shashi won a Filmfare for. He's had many more interesting roles and performances than this.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

I take issue with Pravin Babi's role. A bad girl by Bolly standards, she sleeps with Vijay and smokes, and therefore must die :S???

I agree with Beth that Shashi has done way better roles and movies; here he is almost priggish- even though Vijay is in the wrong, all the sermonising given to Shashi to make probably doesnt help their relationship either :D

Utter waster of Neetu, undoubtedly; I also wonder how many boxes of tissues Nirupa ran through the course of the movie :D

Crazy on Bollywood said...

DEEWAR and KALAPATHTHAR r the favorite action movie i hv ever seen in bollywood.I have watched this 2 movie countless of times.

nic said...

Over the years I have heard numerous anecdotes through people directly and through the Indian press that mention that people in countries like eygpt, iran and middle east generally rank Deewar among the best bollywood movie they have ever seen so there might be some cultural reason for its popularity.

Beth said...

Shweta - Agreed! Parveen's character's fate was very troubling. I shouldn't be surprised, I guess, but still.

I had bouts of thinking the screenwriters wanted us to feel more sympathy for Vijay than Ravi. Ravi is such a goody-goody that it's hard to feel for hims sometimes, despite him being voiced by Shashi! :)

nic - The following of Bollywood in different parts of the world is so interesting, I think. So many different cultures intersecting! Somebody must have written something really intersecting about all of this....

a ppcc representative said...

I think Bollyviewer hit the nail on the head: if you see this after watching Suhaag, Parvarish, Kasme Vaade, or any other "good brother/bad brother" masala movie, it just comes across as terribly cliche. And even worse, taking itself too seriously - since all the other movies in this genre (that I can think of) are much more light-hearted!

And Beth, you're right - it does feel like you're being hit over the head with a shovel at times! I said it in my Immaan Dharam review: Deewaar comes loaded with baggage saying that you must like it (or die). Too much Importance with a capital I.

Immaan Dharam is sooo much better. *waits for rotten tomatoes*

indiequill said...

Ha! this is interesting -- coz i love Deewar for precisely the reasons you don't :D I don't know what Deewar says about Indian culture as such unless you take it as an allegory for Indian society of the 70s where Mother India's two sons are fighting in the house and she's the only one who can stop it (oooh! lolz) but its dark undertones are fascinating to me.

AB plays his role with a dead eyed intensity that really suits this role more than any other role he ever did - in films like Kaala Patthar and Agneepath, there was sympathy and redemption around the corner. They might have been "bad guys" but there were also heroes.

Vijay is about as heroic as Satya and he has about the same amount of redemption and sympathy waiting for him. He's a man who made his choice as a child and is going to stick by it. he has a strange morality and ethic that he forged in a hard school but he sticks to it however repulsed the people around him might become. He loves his mom enough to argue with God about her but not enough to make her choices his. Even when he asks his girlfriend to marry him, its his needs that drive him to ask her but once committed to her, he's in it for the long haul.

He's unsettling because he's unheroic but presented in a heroic mould.

That to me is fascinating because, speaking as a writer, its a hard task to pull off. And also, the movie is just so much fun! Tashan should look at this movie and learn about the Ishtyle and the Pharmoola.

--Amrita.

Sanket Vyas said...

OMG Beth ;) this was not the the review I was expecting and really thought you would love this movie. I did a post on my blog a few months back and called it the 'perfect film'. It swept the Filmfare Awards that year and it's script is still being used at the Pune Film Institute as an example of the 'perfect screenplay'. I can't really speak for too many non-desis (other than Carla over at Filmigeek who loved the movie) but every desi I know - young & old - has loved this film. In fact my good friend Hasan & I watched this together and it is the only time I have ever seen him cry.

The 2 dialogue pieces you talk about in your review (where Amitabh talks to god & the 'mera paas ma hai' scenes are still used by Amitabh when he plays concerts. 'Suhaag' is a fun movie but it's fun lies in how over the top and silly it is and can't be compared to 'Deewaar' in my humble opinion. Maybe if you go back & read mine & Carla's reviews it might help? This movie was very reminiscent of what Scorsese might have done if he had made a Bollywood movie back in the day.

From the Pune Film Institute Alumni Magazine...

"Jean Luc Godard said that if a film has four to five good scenes, the audience is usually quite satisfied. George Lucas said, a good film should have 60 terrific two-minute scenes. 'Deewaar' has a total of 95 scenes and it’s quite impossible to list favourites because they are all so damn good. As writers, whilst working on our own scripts, we often feel inadequate and hopelessly untalented. If we want to feel even worse, please note that Salim-Javed wrote 'Deewaar' in just 18 days. If Salim-Javed took one idea and made two movies, they were to also do a total opposite. They took classics of Hindi Cinema – 'Gunga Jamuna' and 'Mother India' and wonder of wonders, through their amalgamation created a third classic, 'Deewaar'."

~GRAFTII (alumni magazine of FTII - Pune)

Beth said...

Don't know what to tell you, Sanket. It didn't work for me, and I certainly do not find it perfect. Such is life - and movies!

Sanket Vyas said...

It wouldn't be fun if we all agreed on every movie now would it? ;) As long as we agree on most that we both like then we know we got plenty of common ground (was the first to give you a comment on one of my favorites, 'Veer Zaara' - also we both loved one that made it into my all-time classics on my first watching - 'Dor'.

p.s. I have fun placing your new pictures that you put on top from week to week - 'Kabhie Kabhie' if I am not mistaken?

Cheers!

Hobbit said...

I love Deewar for the wonderful dialogue peppered throughout the movie..not just the "Mere paas maa hain". The first one is "Kal ek aur aadmi hafta dene se inkar karega". Then there is "Main aaj bhi phenke hue paise nahin utatha". Also "Seth , saare ande aaj hi chahiye?". Then there is the famous one "Jao pehle us aadmi ka sign lekar aao...."...I am sure there are more. Best part is AB's dead-pan delivery - what intensity...simply awesome.Also the way he paces his words - a man who is carefully thinking and planning his moves.

One thing which can help to understand Deewaer better is to look at the central dilemma of Arjuna in the Mahabharata. How do you fight with your own brothers ? Is it worth it ? It is the same dilemma which Ravi faces in Deewar - duty against family - the concept of Karma. A lot of Hindi films have explored similar concepts but Deewar stands above the rest.

Ellie said...

Am I right in thinking that this is probably not a good introduction to Shashi? I felt fairly neutral about this movie: it's more or less what I expected, and I didn't expect much, so there was no strong feeling either way. I guess that if I really thought hard about it, things like the fate of Parveen Babi would have bothered me on a level above what I felt, which was, "Oh. Right. Sigh." But it didn't seem worth wasting the energy to be saddened or upset by it-- I think I've blown myself out psychoanalyzing American action movies, which is an exercise guaranteed to raise the blood pressure. As it was, what irritated me about this movie was the point above the camera that they kept instructing Nirupa to stare at.

This was, as mentioned, my first Shashi, and I must say that he did very little for me. I could easily see that a vile combination of script and direction could bring him down here-- certainly it was not a role designed to showcase charm. Amitabh, on the other hand! Fabulous! I just about died with the masala glee of it all when he locked himself in with the thugs. This sort of performance must have been what they were going for when they made the baffling "Agneepath," which was stolen by Mithun, in my opinion. I want to feel the Shashi love: what movie do you recommend?

Beth said...

Ellie - That is certainly my opinion. I think you're very right in that his character is not set up to be likable - he's too much, and his victory is utterly hollow to everyone involved, even to himself. Amitabh IS fabulous in this.

As for Shashi love, try...hmm...well, the one that did it for me was Doosra Aadmi, but that also has very peculiar Rishi in it, so I'm not sure that would work for everyone. Kaalaa Patthar is one of my very favorites (with Amitabh as well); Kalyug is great (but very serious and not masala); he is extremely adorable and funny in Pyaar Kiye Jaa (60s); he gets his hands dirty as a cop who goes to great lengths to reform the bad guy in Chor Sipahee with Vinod (70s).... I will keep pondering this and get back to you :)

I let out a giant laugh at your line about exhausting yourself with action movies - I can only imagine!

Memsaab said...

I just watched this yesterday and am still reeling from the power of it all. Definitely not a movie I will reach for when I need cheering up, but I think it's unbelievable.

W0lf said...

Hi

I really like your blog. Mainly because I grew up in a small town in Maharashtra, and then had to move out of India. So in a way, I had to figure out Western pop culture and quirks from scratch, the same way you are trying to figure out Indian quirks (for me it was not a matter of choice though :-)).

Anyway, coming back to "Deewar".
I am surprised no one really brought up the "Mahabharata" and its significance in the way Indians interpret this movie. When I first saw "Deewar" as a young boy, to me it immediately registered as the story of Arjuna, Karna and Kunti. This story BTW, is one of the most discussed and analyzed and talked about outside of the Mahabharata (others being the story of Matsyagandha and Bheeshma, another being that of Ekalavya).

Now the Mahabharata goes into great detail in fleshing out the tortuous relationship between these three characters. Its impossible for a film to encapsulate all these nuances. Salim-Javed in a very brilliant masterstroke, only capture the essence of that story, and rely on the audience to fill in the nuances from their own memory. I have immense respect for Javed Akhtar -- the man understands the Hindu epics better than most Hindus themselved :).

So people who know the Mahabharata -- and I don't mean the original Sanskrit, but the folk version that many kids learn from their grandparents -- probably just naturally "grok" the characters and can reconcile themselves more readily to the fratricide and general mayhem at the end :).

Hope this helps.

I think you should read the Ramayana and Mahabharata -- preferably the most kitschy versions you can find, like from "Amar Chitra Katha" comics for example -- and then watch Hindi movies from the 60s and 70s again.
You will be surprised at how differently you will "see" many of them!

W0lf said...

Whups, I just scanned the commments and realized someone had brought up thr Mahabharata :).

Anonymous said...

Belated comment - every scene is thought provoking - like the scene where Hangal says something like (after his wife has refused the food Shashi Kapoor has brought because he shot her son) "Don't worry about what she says - she is an uneducated woman - you were only doing your duty - after all, theft is theft regardless of whether you steal 1 rupee or 1,00,000 rupees). This is echoed later by the discussion of the Bhagavad Gita between Aruna Irani and SK in the hospital, and SK despairingly says (when AI asks him to do his duty) "But I am not a hero like Arjuna". Similarly, the chase between Shashi Kapoor and Hangal's kid is directly mirrored in the chase between SK and AB later in the film after the hospital scene(which contains the dialogue above)