Sunday, August 12, 2007

Deewaar (1975) - A Perfect Film



"The audience is fickle. You grab them by the throat and never let go."
~Billy Wilder (nominated for 12 Academy Awards for screenwriting)

'Deewaar' is one of those few movies (Bollywood or otherwise) that I consider to be a perfect film. By perfect I mean that there is not an ounce of fat in the entire movie - each scene is constructed like a mini film, each line of dialogue is written & placed exactly how it should be, each actor is absolutely tailor made for their role and the story itself is so compelling and different, that it served as a watershed moment in Bollywood history. The story & dialogue were written by Salim Khan (a failed actor) and Javed Akhtar (an assistant director) who got together in the early 70's to write movies together and in the process became legends of Indian cinema. 'Written by Salim-Javed' became a mark that moviegoers searched out because it guaranteed them a movie with taut storytelling, terrific dialogue, memorable characters and more than anything - their ability to connect with every class of moviegoer from high society debutantes to the paan-waalas & taxi drivers.

I try not to throw around the word perfect too much but I believe this film truly deserves it. It won Filmfare Awards in 1975 for Best Movie, Best Direction (Yash Chopra), Best Story, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Shashi Kapoor). Amitabh Bachchan was nominated for Best Actor but lost out to Sanjeev Kumar for his role in 'Aandhi'. While my fellow Guju did an admirable acting job I dare say Amitji was robbed for the single most powerful performance he has ever rendered in a movie. For more on this cinematic masterpiece please check out our friend Carla's review at Filmigeek in yet another joint venture between us. Also see the rarely seen trailer below...



I saw this movie when I was seven in an English dubbed version made for the West Indies market called 'I'll Die For Mama'. It was one of the first Indian movies I had seen and it impacted me for years to come. It made me a lifelong fan of Amitabh Bachchan, who may have made his mark in the Salim-Javed penned 'Zanjeer', but whose true ascent to superstardom lies with this film. Amitabh's performance as the son of a union leader whose fate in life is decided at a very young age and whose rise from a lowly coolie to the most feared gangster in Bombay's seedy underworld was truly dazzling. Add to that Shashi Kapoor's own transformation as Amitabh's younger brother who owes everything to his bhai's sacrifices but whose own duties as a policeman force him to make decisions that challenge everything he believes in.



Each and every scene carries this film forward and is unforgettable in it's own right, it's script is a mainstay at the FTII in Pune as an example of a 'perfect screenplay'. Amitabh still recites the exact lines from the film - especially this scene when he first visits a temple to ask god to save his mother - in his concerts and wipes a (faux?) tear from his eyes after. 'Deewaar' also marked the first time a movie showed a couple (Amitabh & Parveen Babi) smoking a cigarette in bed after spending the night together. Parveen is introduced after the interval and appears in just a handful of scenes but leaves a devastating impact. And the scenes between Amitabh & Shashi when they turn from brothers to sworn enemies are still shown on endless loops on Zee TV today. This movie does not cop out at any point and never gives the audience an easy way out to deal with the fate of it's characters. The ending does not tie up the loose ends nicely nor does everyone live happily ever after. The result is gritty filmmaking that is reminiscent of early Martin Scorsese and is rarely seen in the colorful celluloid world of modern Bollywood.



The song for today is the catchy tune Kehdon Tumhe by Kishore Kumar & Asha Bhonsle. It is in complete contrast to the mood of 'Deewaar' and almost seems like an afterthought for the simple reason that it was just that, an afterthought. Legend has it that Salim-Javed turned in the screenplay to director Yash Chopra ('Kabhie Kabhie', 'Silsila', 'Lamhe', 'DDLJ', 'Mohabattein', 'Veer-Zaara' & the just released 'Chak De India') and had the audacity to make no provision for a single song. Not wanting to deviate from the industry standard to include a musical number, Yashsaab supposedly said "picture bahut sookhi hogi" (without them the movie will be very dry) to which the script writing duo quipped "picture ka naam 'Gili Deewaar' rakh dijiye" (call the movie 'Wet Wall' then). See what the first writers whose names were the first ever to grace a Bollywood movie poster gave us & watch 'Deewaar' - the perfect film.

"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)

Click here for more dialogue from the movie.

12 comments:

Beth said...

I can't wait to see this! It's always out when I try to rent it. I'm in the middle of Kabhi Kabhie right now...sounds like there will be some interesting contrasts. The more I see of Shashi and Amitabh together, the more I like them as costars.

Sanket Vyas said...

I completely agree - they really did make a great on screen duo ('Deewaar', 'Do Aur Do Paanch', 'Trishul', 'Silsila'). I think 'Kabhie Kabhie' is an interesting film although vastly inferior to 'Deewaar'. What makes it immortal however is that 'Kabhie Kabhie' has one of the best soundtracks in Bollywood history, bar none. I am looking forward to your take on the movie however.

carla said...

Sanket, I loved your comments on *Deewaar* - I completely loved the movie (can't wait to watch it again), but when I watch these classic movies I especially enjoy the comments of people who have held them close to their hearts for many years.

The title song of "Kabhi kabhie" gives me chills - it was on the very first CD of filmi music I ever owned, before I'd ever seen a single Hindi film, and along with "Dum maro dum" and "Chura liya hai tumne" it was one of my first favorite filmi songs.

Maja said...

Thank you for the recommendation, Sanket, sounds like an amazing movie. I've been trying to get a hold of it before but I haven't been able to find it yet. Now I really want to see it, though!

Daddy's Girl said...

As always, a very insightful and informative piece, Sanket! I recently watched this and loved it - I will be doing a review soon although between you and Carla, it's just about all been said!
I feel quite pleased at myself for identifying the 'Mother India' connection all by myself while watching the film (haven't seen 'Gunga Jamuna' yet) - although I guess it was a bit obvious so my pride is rather misplaced.
One question based on your closing quote: what were the 2 film scripts that Salim Javed wrote from one idea?

Sanket Vyas said...

Carla - I was thinking the same thinking but in reverse! That is always a thrill to me when these movies that meant so much to me growing up mean just as much to people from other cultures now. As far as 'Kabhie Kabhie' goes - every Desi person that I know of (whether they like Bollywood or were even born when the movie came out) is a fan of that soundtrack.

Maja - trust me it is well worth the search and the fact that it took so long to find will make it that much more worthwhile when you do find it ;)

DG - Can't wait to read your take on it because as I said earlier - I love hearing what people from different cultures have to say about the films I grew up with. Congrats on the 'Mother India' connection - I didn't get it until one of my (many) repeated viewings of the film years later. The quote was a bit confusing but I believe the 2 movies the writer was referring to was this one & 'Zanjeer'.

Daddy's Girl said...

Thanks Sanket - that would make a lot of sense - both main characters are haunted by their childhoods, both are angry... the difference is the channels through which they seek to exorcise their demons.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful review. I too grew up watching Amit uncle. This is, along with Shakti, his best performance. And RD's music is pitch perfect for this movie. One interesting point is that while Amit and Shashi were a hit combination they weren't the best of friends. And while this movie is all Amitabh, Shashi has the best line, "Mere paas ma hein" (I have mom)

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Sanket Vyas said...

Interesting fact about them being friends - I am sure that had alot to do with professional rivalry back in the day. These days they are quite friendly and speak fondly of eachother.

I did love 'Shakti' as well - seeing Dilipji & AB on the big screen together was just amazing for any film buff! The lines in this movie are just all amazing but the Shashi line is the one that is truly the show stopper!

Kishore said...

Dear Sanket, wonderful comments on Deewar, and very apt too. I wonder if you could tell me the details of the song "I'm falling in love with a stranger" which plays in the background during the Amitabh-Parveen meet in the hotel lobby. One friend of mine says it is Usha Uthup, while another says that it is Ila Arum. I think it sounds like neither.
-Your fellow Guju
Kishore Shah kshahsky@gmail.com

Sanket Vyas said...

Thanks for the nice comments Kishore - it took me awhile to find the song and it just fit the scene so well! It is Usha Uthup...