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Home»Features»Deewaar turns 47: Exploring how Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor film is an indictment of the establishment»

Deewaar turns 47: Exploring how Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor film is an indictment of the establishment

As Yash Chopra’s 1975 cult classic completes 47 years of release in January, investigating how it managed to explore class divide without sacrificing on the film’s commercial appeal.

Deewaar turns 47: Exploring how Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor film is an indictment of the establishment
  • Pratishruti Ganguly

Last Updated: 03.29 PM, Jan 07, 2022


One of the most alienating aspects of watching “classics” in the 21st century is the heavyhandedness with which the many films of preceding generations were created. From flashy costumes, heightened emotions to melodramatic monologues, everything was tailormade for a larger-than-life, theatrical experience. Despite following the beats of a commercial potboiler, Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor’s 1975 drama Deewaar stood out for its ability to hold the establishment accountable.

Deewaar’s protagonists do not live in marble-jacketed mansions. They belong to the working class, who have to work every single day to earn a living. Right in the beginning, Deewaar establishes that its world is corrupt, where the poor are exploited at will by the rich and the powerful.


Thus, a trade union leader Anand’s (Satyendra Kapoor) attempts are renegotiating wages are easily thwarted by threats to harm his family - wife Sumitra (Nirupa Roy) and sons Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) and Ravi (Shashi Kapoor). But his fellow factory workers label him as a betrayer to their cause, and force him to leave behind his family and run away. Sumitra, abandoned by his husband, heads to Mumbai with her two sons in hopes of escaping the ruthless neighbours and a better way of living.

The two brothers — Ravi and Vijay — grow up in different circumstances. As the elder one, Vijay is forced to take up the responsibility of playing the provider, and is exposed to the many hardships of the world early on in his life. A tattoo reading “mera baap chor hai” is inscribed on him, as a constant reminder of his father’s betrayal. On the other hand, Ravi is educated at premier colleges and bags a job as a police sub-inspector. But filmmaker Yash Chopra wasn’t interested in dabbling in the age ol’ good versus evil parable. Deewaar is anything but a morality tale, even if the law enforcer becomes the hero in the end. Instead, the film explores how complex the ideas of right and wrong are.


In one scene, Ravi nabs a thief, but is guilt-ridden upon learning that he had only stolen a loaf of bread to feed his family. He is accused of being insensitive to the plight of the poor, focusing their time on petty criminals than on those who are responsible for hoarding materials and creating shortages. The thief’s father interjects, asserting that a life of crime is not the answer to fighting systemic oppression. The film is mindful enough to not justify crime, but neither does not vilify those for whom the choice to do the right thing is not always present.

In Deewaar, Mumbai is not a promised land of opportunities. As opposed to the glitzy skyline drone pictures of the city featured on calendars and postcards, Mumbai in Deewaar is a cluster of sinewy, dark alleyways strewn with garbage and litter, where people fight over scraps and make homes under a bridge. This was a groundbreaking moment in Hindi cinematic history because while poverty has featured in many Bollywood movies of the yore, including in Mother India and Do Bigha Zamin, this was the first time urban poverty was explored on screen. In Deewaar’s Mumbai, one is useful only until they are not, and are replaced by the next best option.


This is further established in the scene where an aged labourer laments that in the past 25 years, the only thing that he has witnessed changing are the faces of his fellow workers. Not their wages, standards of living, or even their uniforms. ‘

Deewaar is not faultless though. Although Anita, essayed by Parveen Babi, is not presented as the virginal heroine (she is embodied by Neetu Kapoor’s Veera), neither is she exempted from a fate that Bollywood frequently meted out to its vamp figures — untimely death. Further, the metaphor of divide is hammered home in every scene visually, be it in temples or under a bridge.

Nevertheless, rarely has Bollywood seen a hero scorning the established in such unveiled terms, “Tumhare saare usoolon ko goondh kar ek waqt ki roti nahi banayi ja sakti.” And Deewaar is that rare piece of cinema that dared to challenge the establishment.