The Foothpath and the Skyscraper: The Pleasures of Deewar (by VINAY LAL)

The book releases in December — Qalandar


“Moving as he does between the extremes, from the village to a global trade in smuggled goods, from the uniform of a mere coolie at Bombay’s docks to tailored suits, we should not be surprised that Vijay [Amitabh Bachchan] teeters between the footpath and the skyscraper. Deewaar has justly been described as a film that gives vent to the explosive anger of discontented young urban India, as well as a film that, while exploring, partly through tacit invocations to the rich mythic material found in the Mahabharata, the inexhaustible theme of fraternal conflict, provides an allegorical treatment of the eternal struggle between good and evil within oneself.”

“Compelling as are such readings, I would nevertheless suggest that Deewaar also puts on offer the dialectic of the footpath and the skyscraper . . . . The footpath or pavement . . . has ever been present in the Hindi film, to be numbered among the dramatis personae. The ubiquity of the footpath as home to the homeless, migrant labourers, and myriad others living at the margins of society is too self-evident to require comment. One can think of it more imaginatively as a school where life’s lessons are imbibed: while Ravi [Vijay’s brother, played by Shashi Kapoor] goes to school, where under the umbrella of the textbook, the national anthem, and the discipline of the rod he will learn to become the dutiful subject of the state, Vijay takes up shining shoes on the footpath. It is on this footpath that some of the dialogues inescapably associated with Deewaar take place: issuing a retort to Jaichand for throwing money at him after his shoes have been polished, the young Vijay says, ‘I polish shoes and do not beg for money. Pick up the money and place it in my hands.’ Vijay, Davar later cautions Jaichand, is the steed that runs long races (‘lambi race ka ghora’): ‘He is not going to be shining shoes the rest of his life. That day when he catches life by the neck, he will leave everyone behind. Mark my words: One day this boy will make something of himself.’”


22 Responses to “The Foothpath and the Skyscraper: The Pleasures of Deewar (by VINAY LAL)”

  1. this should be a good book to read/listen.
    Currently listening to – “The Lost Symbol”
    so far it is as good as the Da Vinci Code…..


  2. Bachchan on Deewar- ( from his Blog Day 3223 )

    ‘Deewar’ was an after thought. Many great moments in life eventually turn out to be living with that stigma of an after thought. But this is genuine and true. I had already started and shot for a week, on another film, under the Production of Yash Chopra, being directed by his very senior and respected Editor – Pran ji – no not the artist – Pran the editor. On an evening quite by accident, Salim saheb and Javed saheb and I were at my place where they spoke of another script, which they felt should be made. They narrated it to me and I felt it was most dynamic. They did not tell be the detailed narration, just a few early scenes and the climax in the temple – vividly describing the injured Vijay stumbling over the overhead temple bells and falling into the arms of his Mother ! They also felt, Salim-Javed that the film should be directed by Yash Chopra, and urged me to make a call to him. I did and told Yash ji that he should hear the script I had just been narrated. He acknowledged the fact, but did tell me that once the current shooting of the film on the floor was over then he could think of listening to the one I was referring to. I told him to hear the script, and maybe he would want to make this first. He agreed, and we went across to his residence, then an apartment in Pali Hill.

    Javed Saheb narrated the entire script, a rarity in those days, and after a few scenes would proudly declare ..” yeh aapke 10 hafte ho gaye”, then move on to a few more scenes and declare ..”aur yeh ho gaye 15 hafte” .. and so on till we reached 50 weeks !!!

    The result .. Yash ji scrapped the one we were shooting for earlier, and began work on the script which had been titled ‘DEEWAR’ ..


    • What an anecdote, the bit about how Javed Akhtar would narrate was so vivid — you made my day Rockyji, thanks for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Another anecdote: I heard Salim Khan on a radio show a few months ago, to the effect that a young Raj Babbar was the original choice for Shakti (Javed Akhtar had seen him do theater and had thought he would be right for the part), but once Ramesh Sippy spoke to Salim-Javed he said only Bachchan could do justice to the part — I don’t remember the exact line, but Salim Khan had a memorable line, something like “…bas, jab ek baar Bachchan saahib ki baat ho gayee to phir to picture hi alag ban gayee, aur sab — producer, distributor — tilmilaa uthe…”

        Liked by 2 people

    • this was a beautiful post.. my response…

      [Ah… one of your richest posts.. worth its weight in gold! Which is perhaps not an inappropriate reference given the subject! The old storied ages of Hindi cinema also have the best anecdotes, the best archives of memory. I’d be willing to wager a lot that the same kind of anecdote, memories of the same quality are not created in today’s ‘Bollywood’ and haven’t been for the longest time. There is an inner link between those older works and these sorts of anecdotes or episodes. Only when there is spontaneity, only where there are genuinely creative people with an experience of the world and of course their fields, only then and there can both those films and these rich accounts come about. Otherwise one is simply ‘producing’ films mechanically. Of course there are always those who do just this in every age. But the better talents were different, let alone the best ones. Today the paucity of things can be understood precisely by looking at the ‘best stuff ‘ that’s out there.

      And yet memory isn’t only about recounting things. This is important of course. But there is also a responsibility memory imposes on us. Not to betray it. Or I should rephrase this. For life to go on a kind of betrayal is necessary at every step. But one must ultimately remain true to some spirit of that great memory. One should never stand diminished before such memory but always as an equal. Survival requires great skills, great abilities but the fidelity to a memory asks for even greater ones. Certainly greater sacrifices…

      But again I must thank you for this gold that you have put up today.. in my memory the gold is forever arriving at Madh Island and the smugglers are forever flashing signals in the dark.. the boats are forever arriving in stealth, and the police is forever breaking the silence with screeching alarms..]

      Liked by 2 people

      • Re.-But there is also a responsibility memory imposes on us. Not to betray it. Or I should rephrase this. For life to go on a kind of betrayal is necessary at every step. But one must ultimately remain true to some spirit of that great memory. One should never stand diminished before such memory but always as an equal. Survival requires great skills, great abilities but the fidelity to a memory asks for even greater ones. Certainly greater sacrifice..

        Satyam- Try acting , I mean Try plain English …lol
        while Q’s comment above is Zameenee like Dangal, Satyam’s comment is so Aasmani like Baar Baar Dekho !! LOL


    • I personally feel Trishul was a bit superior to Deewar in terms of overall script and dialogues.


  3. Thanks for the post Rocky. I didn’t find this in flipkart but am really interested in owning this one..

    On that note, something I HAD to write on 40 years of DEEWAR..

    Amitabh’s Vijay – whose character always seems to promulgate an authorial and allegorical representation of outliers—meets an escort-woman [Parveen Babi] whose real name would turn out to be Anita but could be exchanged and renamed as per the whims and fantasies of her clientele. These both become emotionally clutched to each other in a way not comprehensible to the ‘normal’ societal standards. Their closeness is surprisingly candid – and so tangible – for the story-arc; Vijay is just shown enjoying a post-coital smoke in one of the following scenes! There is hardly any drama, any philosophical or existential lingering – there are just two souls charred by the fire of fate and fueled by societal conflation to accept them as-is. Now in today’s times, feminists or non-feminists might take umbrage to the fact that Anita’s ultimate redemption, as per her mother, would lie in getting married adorned with a wedding-saree gifted from her mother and not in being a woman of her own terms. But one has to respect the times in the Indian-context; maybe Germaine Greer’s influence was too slow in crossing over the Atlantic onto the shores of Bombay. Anita’s happiness lay in getting married to Vijay and legitimizing a child born-out-of-wedlock, which, alas, is cut-short by Samant’s knife.

    Liked by 1 person

    • AnJo that was a great review . Kya likha hai aapney , maza aa gaya !!
      would like to know yours, Q’s and Satyam’s preference between Trishul and Deewar !!
      the following lines really struck me-
      When the grown-up Ravi asks his mother as to what she pleads/prays to the Gods every day, she has but a simple and unadulterated answer: ‘Happiness for you; Peace for Vijay.’ Right there, is the magic of word-play; the mother KNOWS what strikes at the heart of her sons. Ravi needs happiness; while Vijay needs peace


  4. Bachachn sahab again – ( from his Blog Day 3225 (i)

    The previous day’s were more or less already known, but today’s are kinda new ( at least to me )

    There are two sounds in the film during these scenes which I wonder many have noticed. In the prayer scene – ‘aaj khush toh ..’ when I plead the God to give me back my Mother, the camera moves closer to me in a trolley shot, and what can be heard in a short portion of it is a wood sound, like someone stepping on a wooden floor plank, that has been either not firmly fixed or is loose. That sound is the sound of the track on which the trolley runs. Tracks in those days were made of wood, unlike what they are now, metalled and mechanised so there is smooth movement and no sound !!

    The other is the death scene. As I say my last lines on the lap of my Mother, Nirupa Roy, you hear the chime of a clock. The audience and the connoisseurs of cinema, complimented Yash ji on the placement of the chime during the death scene, as back ground sound. WRONG ! it was never a back ground sound put in, it happened originally. You see, on the set of the temple as part of a property, there was a clock, and most coincidentally and almost in a most weird telepathic symbolic manner, went off on its own, at a most appropriate time while the shot was running !! We just kept because we could never remove it, for I had requested not to dub the scene. We had to go with the original sound. Many that do not know the detail, felt it was such a pertinent touch – ‘time telling Vijay that it was now running out on him’ .. !!

    AND ..

    Nirupa ji played my Mother, and the scene where she slaps me in the early part of the film, is a real slap. And I have to admit that it was the strongest hands that I have ever encountered in a lady. My ears were ringing after that whack for days .. !!
    this scene was shot in Yash ji’s apartment in Pali Hill, where he lived during that time .. and this is the flat where I during the shooting of the film, met Adi Chopra, just born, for the first time .. today he has become this magnum studio head producer director writer .. and a most respected fraternity member !!

    OH .. and the car that I drive in to the temple at night after getting shot by Shashi ji, was supposed to stop at the steps, but in my ‘josh’ I rammed it in and it climbed up a few steps , from where I emerged !! Got a speaking to by Yash ji and the stunt director, for doing that. They said the steering wheel could have given in because of the impact, and crushed me .. !!

    OKAAY .. enough no more …

    Liked by 2 people

  5. DEEWAR .. rides still among us .. and the desired amount of time was spent today with Javed Akhtar the writer of the film – along with Salim Saheb – as one of the finest scripts written for cinema in India .. many reasons and aspects of the film were discussed for a print medium .. which should be out shortly ..

    Moments like these lend much to the documentation of history and the prevailing circumstances with all the right stories of the times, as a documentation of record .. posterity shall never forgive us if we did not do this. And as we talk there are certain very keen and interested gentleman and ladies that are fervently working towards this end .. a documentation and restoration of our filmic history through the years from its beginning .. a most noble cause, and one that needs to be done most sincerely and urge

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Read the rest here –

    Akhtar: Back then, the writers, directors and actors worked closely, and we were like a team. When we were shooting Deewaar, he was a star and after Deewaar, he was the undisputed number one star. During the temple scene, we had a long talk with Amitabhji and Yashji, discussing if the scene should start on a high note or not. Vijay wasn’t an atheist, but he was upset with God. He wasn’t on talking terms with God.

    Bachchan: People read a lot into the scenes now. That scene was shot under the bridge, which people felt signified that a bridge had formed between the brothers. There was a subtle atmosphere of secularism in the film, with the Billa no 786, when Rahim chacha casually tells Vijay that the number is scared in his religion (Islam). Religion isn’t forced in the film. When he gets shot, he kisses the billa, and when he loses it during the final chase scene, the audiences know that something is going to go wrong. These were such symbolic and powerful moments without harping on any religion.

    Apparently, Rajesh Khanna was the original choice for the film with, Navin Nischol and Vyjantimala as co-stars.

    Akhtar: We were so enamoured by Amitabhji that we wanted him in all our films. When we spoke to Yashji about Deewaar, he asked, ‘does Amitabh pay you a commission that you want him in all your films?’ (laughs). Producer Gulshanji (Rai) had signed Rajesh Khanna, who was a successful actor, but we felt only he (Bachchan) could do justice to Vijay’s role. We insisted and, thankfully, we prevailed.

    Bachchan: A grey character is admired a lot. The character has been subjected to so much oppression yet is fighting against it. His fight was legitimate, even if his methods were not always right. There were many factors that we were riding on along with the character. After the stigma of the tattoo, whatever he does is looked upon as right due to the injustice done to him. He is so tough, yet he breaks down when his mother is unwell. There is only one action scene in Deewaar, but it is called an action film. The positioning of the fight was very powerful, and that has never been replicated.

    Parveen Babi’s character was a modern woman who felt no guilt or shame in having pre-martial sex, drinking or smoking, unlike conventional heroines.

    Akhtar: The mother was more of a heroine than the heroines, Parveen and Neetu Singh, in the film. It was an experiment and it worked. It was novel and revolutionary for people. Today, it might not be.

    Bachchan: But there was a lot of dignity in [Babi’s] character, who was doing something as a professional, but in her heart, wanted marriage. And when Vijay is sympathetic towards her, the audience is too.


    • I hope and wish they have a video of this , and a longer interview …


    • great to read… wish there were a video of this.


    • my response on Bachchan’s blog:

      [Again I wish there were a video of this. Liked the exchange a lot or whatever is available here. I would like to challenge you on one of your responses though. Do you think Vijay “does not believe in God”? My sense has always been that this detail is quite ambiguous in the film. He certainly doesn’t come across as an atheist but a kind of rebel against God and his ‘injustice’, which is to say the unjust world he allows. ‘Vijay’ was among other things also in a long line of Western Romantic figures. There are traces of Milton’s Satan in this position of his (refusing to enter the temple and so on).

      Where I do agree is that the film doesn’t play off one religion against another. It’s too sophisticated to do any such thing. But it essentially scrambles the codes. It mixes things up in very interesting ways as did Desai in another register. And this is of course our grand Indian inheritance. Things are not exclusive anywhere. There is this constant mixing, this eclectic quality to faith and culture. And this of course was also the Nehruvian idealization (one that he consciously indulged in) of the Indian past. Of course some idealizations are better, more constructive than others. We live in times today and with discourses that would have shocked Desai. But we also live with ‘survivors’ of that generation who in most cases are far too cautious to protest what they plainly know to be unjust and certainly corrosive. Let me leave it at that here…]

      Liked by 1 person

      • This is what Javed Sahab said-
        Vijay wasn’t an atheist, but he was upset with God. He wasn’t on talking terms with God.

        P.S.- Kinda like he is upset with his dad in Trishul but slaps the hell out of Prem Chopra when talks ill of his dad.


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