Last week, there were celebrations all over and major media coverage for the 40th anniversary of Sholay. But another landmark Hindi film was released the same year, i.e. 1975, one which has the most quoted line from Hindi cinema — Mere paas maa hai. The film was Deewar by Yash Chopra, one of his best films ever.
Both Sholay and Deewar had writers Salim-Javed in common — the duo of scriptwriters so successful that their name appeared above the film’s title. Their plotting, character development and dialogue was masterly, and they caught the pulse of colloquial speech so well that their lines were simple (unlike the flowery lines of earlier films) yet very quotable. Remember, Aaj khush toh bahut hoge tum, Main aaj bhi phenke hue paise nahin uthata.
Deewar, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor, Parveen Babi, Nirupa Roy and Neetu Singh, captured India at the cusp of change. The decline of the trade union movement, the rise of the criminal underworld and how the gangster came out of the darkness into the open plying his trade with defiance. When the dock worker turned smuggler Vijay (Bachchan) taunts his police officer brother Ravi (Kapoor) that he has everything — bangla, gaadi, paisa, it is only the mandatory emotional content of the times that made Ravi retort “Mere paas ma hai,” and have the audience go gaga. Today, the mother has been almost wiped out of mainstream cinema.
Bachchan worked on Sholay and Deewar at the same time, though Deewar was made faster and he played the strong, silent type in both. The spur-of-the-moment decision to knot Bachchan’s shirt, because the costume provided was ill-fitting, started a trend.
Rajesh Khanna was the first choice for Vijay, Navin Nischol for Ravi and Vyjayanthimala for the mother who was immortalised by Nirupa Roy. A mother who rejected her wayward son was very much like the classic Mother India. Nischol who wanted to play only lead parts refused a parallel role (he was the hero of Parwana in which Bachchan was the negative second lead), which Shashi Kapoor took up and resurrected his career, while Nischol’s went downhill.
The film also had a bold female lead for the time, Parveen Babi, who smoked, drank and slept with her boyfriend; in contrast, Neetu Singh was the typical bubbly young woman opposite Shashi Kapoor, uncle of her to be husband Rishi Kapoor.
It did not escape notice that Deewar was an updated, urban version of Ganga Jumna — the dacoit replaced by a gangster, the dutiful cop brother remaining the same.
In every age, good battles evil. A few years after Deewar, the certainty that good would always win, at least in the movies, was also shaken.