The "fiction" of film and "fact" of politics

by Jyotika Virdi

from Jump Cut, no. 38, June 1993, pp. 26-32
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1993, 2006

A close textual analysis of any film should locate the film within an historical and political conjuncture, the context in which it was made, and the extent to which it articulates that context. A textual analysis of the film DEEWAR (WALL, 1976)[1][open notes in new window] is affected in significant ways by the particular historical moment in which it was produced. To fully understand the film, it is important to understand the turbulent political situation of the early 70s. I wish to argue that DEEWAR is a text rich in meaning. It is a polysemic text, offering a range of readings skillfully woven together for a heterogeneous audience.

I cannot speak for the audience and the varied meaning it makes, or how viewers can "shift" the text to fit their own social positioning. However, I do wish to identify the different skeins within the text that might be negotiated by a variegated audience. I will apply the idea of negotiation as developed by Stuart Hall. Hall suggests that meaning is not imposed or passively accepted. Rather, it is arrived at or "negotiated" through the struggle between several competing strands within the texts. Such negotiation correlates with the social situation of the audience.[2] I will demonstrate that DEEWAR can simultaneously be read as a family melodrama, an action-thriller, a religious-mythical or radical-subversive text. The success of the film therefore lies in its ability to mobilize more than one reading of the film ensuring a wide appeal. Finally, there is another level at which analysis of the film can be meaningful, and that is the analysis of the film text within the metatext of the film industry with its configuration of actors and star system, its relation to politics, the state and society in general. In this analysis I will attempt to interweave an analysis of the text and metatext.

A brief outline of the story of DEEWAR at the outset will be helpful. Vijay Verma (played by superstar Amitabh Bachchan) and Ravi Verma (played by Shashi Kapoor) are the sons of a trade unionist, Anand Verma, who was defeated and disgraced by the management of his firm. The father deserts the family, and the sons are raised by their mother, who suffers the trials and tribulations of a poor single mother. Vijay Verma, the elder brother, grows up with an acute awareness of his father's humiliation and is victimized for his father's supposed misdeeds. In the process of fighting for his rights Vijay, who starts out as a dockyard worker, becomes a smuggler and a leading figure of the underworld.

His brother Ravi, on the other hand, receives an education and becomes an upright police officer.

Ravi romances Veera, the daughter of a senior police officer. Vijay has an affair with Anita, a woman he meets at a bar. When Anita gets pregnant Vijay decides to abandon his life in the underworld, not wanting to pass onto his son the humiliation he received because of his father. But it is too late. Ravi decides to arrest Vijay, notwithstanding their filial relation. Their mother sides with the law-abiding son even though the decision pains her greatly. The two brothers clash. Vijay dies in the encounter and Ravi is presented a police gallantry award by the State.

I will begin with the analysis of the film text within the metatext of the industry and its most successful star who plays the role of Vijay Verma in DEEWAR — Amitabh Bachchan. Film and politics in India have been curious bedfellows. On the one hand, film texts produced within the Bombay film industry, the commercial filmmaking sector, have always eschewed any oven political articulation other than a discourse on "nationalist" and "anti-nationalist" politics. This reticence is often attributed to state intervention: the government's heavy-handed censorship policy, which fits into a general pattern of hostile relations between the government and the film industry.

On the other hand, film has been close to politics. The heads of two states in Southern India have been famous film stars: M.G. Ramachandran in Tamil Nadu and N.T. Ramarao in Andhra Pradesh. In 1984, as a result of his meteoric rise to super-stardom in the 70s, Amitabh Bachchan, the protagonist of DEEWAR, became an M.P. (Member of Parliament). Therefore, to examine the politics of this film one cannot limit oneself to the film text alone; we have to read the actor within these texts and within the industry as a "parallel text," as Vijay Mishra suggests, functioning within the metatext of contemporary politics.[3]

Discussion of India's political climate in the 70s will be helpful at this point as a backdrop against which we can better understand the film. Meaning in texts, as John Fiske points out, parallels social power, its distribution, and political struggle for it in society.[4] Knowing the political context will also help in understanding the interplay between text and metatext discussed earlier. The film DEEWAR appeared in 1976, roughly thirty years after independence (1947) in a decade that was characteristically different from the earlier two decades of the 50s and 60s that post-independent India had lived through. The 50s were a period of reconstruction, optimism and hope. The 60s were a period of setback, albeit one of solidarity when the nation rallied together against the Chinese aggression of 1962 and the India-Pakistan war of 1965 when nationalist fervor was high. But by the late 60s the dream of the "springtime" after liberation from colonial rule, as Timothy Brenan puts it, was over.[5]

The major split within the Congress party in 1967 marked the unleashing of Machiavellian politicking within the dominant Congress party and the ultimate consolidation of the Congress in the Parliament and State Assemblies under the stranglehold of the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi. In the 1971 war between India and Pakistan, India successfully intervened oh behalf of the Bangladesh liberation movement. This gave a further boost to Indira Gandhi's image.

There was, however, a sudden and surprising reversal in 1972-73 when events took a downturn, beginning with a failure of the monsoons that led to food shortages and price rise, aggravated by the Bangladesh refugees that had crossed the border. The situation was compounded by the oil-shock of 1973-74 and subsequent inflation and unemployment. Government mismanagement and corruption incited food riots and industrial strikes. The IMF loan in 1974 and the economic policies the state was compelled to follow led to a further widening of the gap between the rich and poor, as well as the beginning of the get-rich-quick phenomenon, with the system of politicians in power distributing the spoils of the industrial and trading sectors over which it had recently extended its control through nationalization. Labor movements in the country became strong as a general state of unrest had built up leading to industrial strikes (like the railway strike of 1974) that virtually paralyzed the economy. And the student movement gained widespread support under J.P Narayan's call for "Sampooran Kranti" (Total Revolution) (the last breath of Gandhian politics in Indian public life) against corruption at all levels within the government.

The hope to unseat Indira Gandhi was lost when she resorted to strong-arm tactics, breaking the back of labor movements and adopted an authoritarian stance in national politics. All this led to the crack-down in 1975 when Indira Gandhi declared a "National Emergency" that suspended all fundamental rights of citizens. It was a nineteen month period of vicious political persecution, reminiscent of the British Rule, and directed at anyone who dared to oppose the government. This was a short-sighted attempt of the Indira Gandhi government to stay in power. But the price paid for this reign of terror was heavy. In the election that took place after the Emergency was lifted in 1977, the Congress Party was put out of power for the first time in thirty years of independent India's history, after having dominated Indian politics (during British Rule and post-independence) for seventy-five years. The political repression during the emergency had set in circulation several stories about the arrests of top leaders and powerful people who had fallen out of favor with the ruling Congress. One such story is about the legendary smuggler Haaji Mastaan.

The narrative of DEEWAR parallels the story of Haaji Mastaan in interesting ways. Haaji Mastaan was a dockworker in Bombay and rose to the position of a powerful smuggler operating in Bombay's underworld. He is known to have single-handedly threatened Bakhia, the head of a rival smuggling gang by entering his house alone in the course of an internecine feud. During the Emergency he came to prominence and was arrested under COFEPOSA (Control of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Act) by the Indira Gandhi government. Vijay Verma's life in DEEWAR, his rise from a humble dockyard worker to a powerful smuggler is paralleled to Haaji Mastaan's life and the occasion when he attacked Bakhia is compared to the moment in the film when Vijay goes to Samant's house (a rival smuggler in the film) and attacks him. But this parallel ends here and cannot be taken any further. (In the film Samant (Bakhia) is killed by Vijay (Haaji Mastaan), though in reality Bakhia was only threatened by the hot-headed Mastaan, who went on to become the leader of a small Muslim Majlis Party in Bombay).[6]

But there are interesting ways in which the actor-turned-politician Amitabh Bachchan's life (playing Vijay Verma in DEEWAR) parallels the film text. Part of the aura of charm surrounding the Bombay film industry is the wealth amassed by top stars like Amitabh Bachchan. The fact that their fortunes depend on evasion of taxes is public knowledge and speculations about Amitabh Bachchan's wealth abound. Yet his image as an "angry young man," the voice of "the people" (the urban male proletariat) that began with his role in ZANJEER (Chain, 1970) and was perfected by the time of DEEWAR in 1976, was so powerful that in the early 80s when he turned to politics to help Rajiv Gandhi, he was voted to Parliament with an overwhelming majority in 1984. Rajiv Gandhi, an unknown entity in politics at the time, was a signifier of hope; he was called "Mr. Clean," a reference to his record that did not bear any blemish of charges of corruption, a rarity in Indian politics. Many of his close associates, of which Amitabh Bachchan was one, were seen as new and refreshing faces in the political scene and there were high hopes for radical change in the nature of national politics.

However, in 1987 the nation was rocked by the worst scandal ever — the Bofors Deal, an arms deal with a Swiss company in which top officials including Rajiv Gandhi, the then prime minister, were accused of taking a big cut to line their own pockets. Amitabh Bachchan's brother Ajitabh Bachchan was also accused of getting a share that was put away in Swiss bank accounts. While the matter is still under investigation, Amitabh Bachchan vociferously protested the charges against his brother and argued that his image was being "tarnished" by vindictive journalists. Recently, Ajitabh Bachchan has had himself vindicated to some extent by winning a lawsuit in a London court, and Amitabh Bachchan has tried to win back the image of his being a loyal "nationalist" family after all. The narrative within the text of DEEWAR is interesting because of the ironic twist it gives this later narrative.

In DEEWAR, melodrama is mobilized by making the family the site of discourse about the State in terms of "nationalist" and "anti-nationalist" conflict and rhetoric. The mother (read motherland) is torn between two sons — a smuggler, Vijay (the lawless, anti-nationalist) and Ravi, a police officer (lawful, nationalist) — in fact the kernel of state power. Smuggling has always been the signifier of villainy in Hindi films. It is an interesting signifier to choose, since it is connotative of anti-nationalism and anti-patriotism, since colonial rule.[7] In Amitabh Bachchan's life off-screen it was his brother who was embroiled in anti-nationalist activities and smuggling India's limited foreign exchange into secret Swiss accounts. The importance of "family "and the relation to the Indian State is accentuated further in Amitabh's case, by the fact that the Bachchan brothers are the sons of Harivansh Rai Bachchan, a leading national poet whose poems were taught to many of us growing up in North India, as part of the school curriculum. Amitabh Bachchan was at pains to point out the "irresponsibility" of journalists and the media that had damaged his family's name.

It is by no means a coincidence then, that the family is central to the drama in DEEWAR and other Hindi films: a common ploy is to "throw the domain of kinship morality into crisis."[8] It is for this reason that I consider the reading of Amitabh Bachchan's life as a parallel text in conjunction with the film text, as Mishra suggests, and within the metatext of film discourse and politics, a worthwhile exercise.

Turning now to the text of DEEWAR, I wish to reiterate the model of "negotiation," taken from Stuart Hall's work, which I find particularly useful to draw from in order to analyze the film. The negotiation model suggests the existence of several competing ideological strands that contest each other within the text to become dominant. While the existence of the strands open the texts up to multiple meanings/interpretations, these are limited (as opposed to "any and every interpretation") as Christine Gledhill points out in her article "Pleasurable Negotiations."[9] They are limited by historical conditions, codes, genres and forms, to a range of meanings. DEEWAR deploys melodrama, as one of the forms to frame contemporary issues and discourse within a moral framework. DEEWAR addresses contemporary issues of social injustice, poverty, power, state, class mobility, criminality, wealth, deprivation, humiliation, class, gender, religion, within the backdrop of social unrest in the early 70s. It weaves these together skillfully to create a polysemic text, in which reception of meaning would be determined by social situations and negotiation. Negotiation here implies an active audience, which reconciles conflicting interests between a variety of meanings to arrive at their own meanings.

An obvious strand in the film is the representation of working class and a sympathetic portrayal of their issues. Vijay Verma the protagonist of the film is emblematic of this sentiment. At the very outset of the film, the beginning of the flashback, Anand "Babu," the protagonist's father, a trade union leader gives an impassioned speech to striking workers. He says they are fighting for a "new morning," when basic needs of workers are provided for — education, health-care and housing. However he is mindful not to overstep his limit when he says, they are not questioning why the rich have so much, rather, they are asking why the food barrels are empty for the poor. The reference here is to the food shortage and to grain traders, who had "hoarded" large amounts of grain to accentuate the existing shortage and created an artificial scarcity in order to make an extra buck. Throughout the Emergency, the State propaganda announced its task to be to bring these elements (grain hoarders) to book, maintain "law and order," while in fact there was unprecedented lawlessness, often perpetuated at the behest of state power.

Punished for his militancy, Anand "Babu" is forced into a life of a defeated vagrant with "nowhere" to go. It is (t)his humiliation that is stamped onto Vijay his son (both literally and metaphorically) and it becomes a driving force of a series of effects on Vijay's life. The tattoo on his body, "my father is a thief," symbolizes the constant denigration Vijay faces while growing up, a denigration that motivates a deep-seated rage against his circumstance. It is his circumstance that gets written on his body, the hieroglyphics of oppression, which as an adult he himself comments are like "the lines on the palms of one's hand" (fate), as well as an "event impressed upon his mind and heart" (experience), that "cannot be wiped out."

The film is equivocal about the role of fate and experience here, but the important thing is that it provokes a deep rage within him. He respects himself and demands respect from people, symbolizing a self-conscious acknowledgement of a lower class status and resentment against it. As a young shoe-polish boy he refuses to accept money that is "thrown" at him rather than handed to him. He rebels against religion, refuses to go to the temple; religion here bears the connotation of a Hindu way of life that accepts life's circumstances as fate — the consequences "karma" (actions) in one's past life. As a boy he throws a brick at the building contractor who humiliates his mother on the job, and as an adult fights back against Peter — the mafia in the dockyard that extracted "hafta," a fee extorted from all dockworkers.

The dockyard is another occasion for exposition of working class life: hard physical labor, where Rahim "Chacha" (Uncle Rahim) points out "nothing but the workers have changed for the past twenty-five years," (a reference to the "badli" system — the expendability of workers, their high turnover rate as temporary employees and the instability of the workforce because of this constant flux) and the gangs that extort the workers. A worker refuses to make the contribution since he sends money home to his village (like many who migrate to the city) and loses his life for it. Vijay antagonizes Peter's men by refusing to pay the "hafta"; but Rahim pleads with him: "we are workers and have to live in a world in which the poor have to watch their step." Vijay's response to Rahim's generation of working class ethos is striking: "What has not happened in twenty-five years is going to happen now; one more worker is going to refuse the "hafia." The film, faithful to the genre of propping and celebrating individual heroes, builds in a "fight" sequence and Vijay single-handedly beats up Peter and his gang. When his mother fulminates against his bravado, he invokes his father's "cowardice": "Did you want me also to hide my face and run away?" he asks her. Vijay stands up as the hero who attempts to re-write his history, his circumstance, his destiny. He does this with his wit, skill, strength, entrepreneurship and of course his masculinity.

In contrast to Vijay, the working class figure who "makes it" in the world through smuggling, lawlessness, criminal, and anti-national activities, his brother Ravi Verma is emblematic of lower middle and middle class youth. Supported in his education by Vijay his elder brother and his mother, he faces the long unemployment lines in a world where he feels "even the last job won't be available to him," since he doesn't have the "connections" that will ensure him one. Ravi represents the disenchanted educated youth in the 70s who began to realize their education, "degrees" and "certificates" were worth nothing in a situation where jobs were simply not available. A rather ironic comment is made by Yash Chopra the filmmaker, when Ravi as a little boy runs away from their spot on the pavement dwelling (where the homeless in India live) and longingly watches the phalanx of neatly dressed school children, as the extra-diegetic music plays a famous nationalist song "saare jahaan se achcha, Hindustan hamaara" (the best in the whole world, this country of ours). But Ravi is soon to find out the stark class division that separates him from his girl-friend Veera. (Of course their romance transcends this distance and class difference is negotiated in this case by heterosexual love).

In the climactic moment of the film after Ravi and Vijay have grown very far apart in their ways, they meet under the same bridge that was once their dwelling on the pavement, a reminder of their common roots. On the sound-track "saare jahaan se achcha..." ( the best in the whole universe...) is replayed extra-diegetically, adding a sardonic tone to this momentous meeting. They talk of how far apart they have moved; the opposite paths they have taken in life is discussed in an emotionally charged scene. However what is left unsaid, is the different avenues each of them had to get to where they are. Ravi had a chance to be educated, that at least opened the possibility of a passport to middle class living (as a police officer). All this is drowned, silenced, in Ravi's rhetoric of "adarsh" (ideals) and "asul" (principles).

Yet Ravi is constantly forced to face issues of class. In a poignant sequence in the film, Ravi, in a "police encounter" fires at a kid who he later discovers has stolen bread. When he takes food to the child's parents' house, and discloses his identity, the mother flings the food back at him, refusing to accept his "charity." In a bitter indictment of the state and its oppressive network, she points to the collusion between the state that protects "big" criminals and grain hoarders, while running after petty criminals who steal food. Interestingly this sharp critique that comes from a woman is silenced immediately. She is banished from the room, as her husband begs forgiveness saying, "my wife is uneducated," and then proceeds to make his "educated" comments:

"All stealing, whether it be of a cent or a million, is a crime ...if the thousands of people dying of hunger all become thieves, it would make for an impossible situation."

(T)his "common sense"[10] ties in neatly with the analogy Ravi's boss draws between doctors and the police: just as doctors treat cancer, the police deal with crime. The police then, are not seen as endemic to violence, as the woman's succinct critique points out. In the contest between these dialogical voices, it is the latter that gets firmly reinstated. Ravi discovers the man is a teacher by profession, touches his feet in deference (a mark of respect), and leaves saying he could have only got such a (good) lesson from a teacher! The alliance between education and the state, if one may put it that way, is complete; and the uncomfortable voice of the dissenting woman is silenced — or almost silenced.

It however becomes a voice that cannot be completely silenced for Ravi. This incident is of course purposefully planted before the sequence in which Ravi finds out his own brother Vijay is a "big" smuggler, criminal, the woman said the state protects. Ravi resolves in the name of the state and the law, not to protect Vijay and demands from him instead a signature on a statement, confessing his crimes. Vijay reminds Ravi of their common experience of humiliation and hardship as children, while Ravi repeatedly admonishes him: "Will you sign it or not?" The altercation is built to a crescendo until Vijay declares he will sign it, write his confession of crimes to the state, only if Ravi gets the signature of all those who used their power to write his humiliation: the one who got their father to write (sign) himself as an outcast; the one who threw their mother out of her job; the one who tattooed his life's ignominy onto his body. What is refreshingly different in DEEWAR, from several of the "angry young man" series that the actor Amitabh Bachchan became famous for portraying, is that his anger is directed at a generalized system of oppression, a web of power networks that unleashes an everyday situation of degradation for millions of people in India. This is different in that while it is the story of an individual hero, it is not one of the individual hero's revenge against another individual industrial/ upper-class/bourgeois member.

I have so far traced one strand that can be read as a "subversive" strand of "resistance," which is nonetheless stable and often repressed in the film text. A striking example of this is the way the film ends, which is related to the way it begins — with the trappings of state power: Ravi Verma is being presented the bravery award by the police force. The entire narrative occurs in flashback (perhaps the mother's). The narrative leaves us with a strong sense of empathy for Vijay, who is punished for his lawlessness — being shot by his lawful police officer brother. In an abrupt cut we are brought back to an audience enthusiastically applauding Ravi Verma (shot almost like a curtain call at the end of a drama). The film attempts to reinstate truth, justice, law and duty to the state. But it seems to be a feeble attempt to reimpose closure and a sense of power and control. This can perhaps be explained in terms of the filmmaker's strategy to negotiate government censorship by valorizing an upright police officer, as an antidote to the sympathy already put in place for Vijay, the "smuggler," the "criminal."

There are other strands that contest the reading I have made and struggle to be the dominant voice within the text. The film could well be classified in the genre of the "social" — a category assigned by film critics in India and unique to Hindi cinema. It entails a commentary on social life often framed within the mode of melodrama. In the case of DEEWAR social issues intersect with the family and the charged emotions associated with it. DEEWAR may also be read as a family melodrama of sibling love and rivalry; the son's (Vijay's) transgressive love for his mother, his inability to "separate" from her successfully, for which he is punished. A family reunion at the end of the film, typical of this genre, is subverted. The father is found after twenty odd years, but dies soon after. Later Vijay dies at the hands of his brother. The family is thus used as the site of conflict to exacerbate tensions and heighten emotions.

A religious-mythic reading of the text is equally possible: a moral tale of good vs. evil. In one of the episodes of Vijay and Ravi's childhood we are shown Vijay refusing to enter the temple. He sits at the bottom of the stairs waiting for his mother and Ravi to return. There is a cut to the temple bells, and in the next shot we see a grown Vijay sitting outside the temple at the bottom of the stairs, signifying a major ellipsis in time. We see a grown Ravi too return with his mother from the temple and then in a symbolic way he and Vijay walk away in opposite direction on the screen. The two sons take different paths — the "right" one to the temple and the "wrong path" that moves away from it leading only to hell, damnation and a violent death — a suitable punishment. But before that Vijay is humbled before the power of the God whom he emphatically insists he does not believe in. When he faces the prospect of his mother dying, his beliefs are challenged: from an atheist he is forced to become a believer. He returns to the steps of the temple, this time actually entering it. He pleads with the Gods not to punish his mother for his sins. His mother recovers, but in an act of retributive justice (karma) he dies, shot by Ravi, as he tries to flee from the temple.

This final act seals the faith of the believers in the victory of good over evil and in the framework of a grand justice beyond the here and now of everyday existence. The film could also be read as a prescript of characters from the MAHABHARATA, a major Indian epic. The mother in DEEWAR, like Kunti in the MAHABHARATA witnesses her son Karna going to war with his brothers and suffers the pain of watching Karna die in battle. The power of religious devotion is underscored when Vijay's resistance is broken and he visits the temple to beg for his mother's life "when all [other] routes are closed."

Like other successful films of its ilk, DEEWAR blends together different genres. Action/ thriller dynamics are built in with the suspense in smuggling, chase, fights, and cops and robbers' action of the underworld. The episodes are constructed in a tight plot that moves swiftly, exposing the intrigue and mystery associated with the underworld. It is films like DEEWAR that introduce in the 70s a new kind of masculinity of the hero, in the figure of Amitabh Bachchan. Not only is he heroic in his single-handed struggle against oppression, but he is guaranteed agency with a new style of machismo, where physical strength is important but so is his wit and intelligence.

While there is a departure in the masculine ideal, there is a break in the feminine model as well. Thus the beginnings of a contest within gender representation become visible in DEEWAR. The mother continues to be the archetypal, suffering, pure, good mother. Veera is the good middle class girl, who brings flowers to the railway station for Ravi. But these women are in sharp contrast to Anita who hangs about in bars in the evening. This is perhaps the first time such a woman performs the role of a "heroine," defined by the singularly important attribute of being paired with the male protagonist of the film. Yet both these young heroines are set up as props to further define the heroes and their internal conflicts. This is particularly true for Anita (Vijay's girlfriend). She gratefully accepts confessions from him, the otherwise self-enclosed, aloof man. While Anita is bereft of a narrative that tells us anything about her life — why she drinks, why she is unhappy — she is at least presented as an autonomous woman. She is in control of her own sexuality, sleeps with the man she chooses without marrying him (striking for a 70s film) and has the confidence to raise a child independent of her lover. She tells Vijay she will not "force him to marry her" when she finds out she is pregnant.

It is then that Vijay decides to relent for his crimes. Not because he is repentant but because he does not wish to rewrite the same misery on his "son" (sic) ("his father was a thief"). In a strange twist of the narrative, Anita is murdered. The murder is quite unequivocally a punishment for her sexual transgression, her daring to be an autonomous self-reliant woman. Anita is coded in the manner that Hindi films represent the westernized woman: smoking a cigarette, drinking, wearing a skirt with a slit that makes an inverted "v" pointed towards her crotch. Ultimately Anita meets the fate all such women face. Death. Hindi films until the 70s were unequivocal in their stance against the expression of autonomy: it was "western," "alien," "other," and not to be permitted.

Technically, the film defines space in minimal and functional terms only. The "aesthetic of frontality" seems to be in operation, with flat shots and little depth of field in the mise-en-scene. Camera movement is also "functional," subordinated entirely to being a function of the narrative, and there is no emphasis on detail. Instead what is used are simply broad strokes suggesting certain locales — a rich or poor home, a hospital, police station or temple. Editing is used at high points of tension with focus on the faces. Lighting in the first part of the film is three point and bright, and becomes darker in the latter part as the mood in the film gets somber and conflict ridden. The narrative structure follows the life of Vijay and Ravi, with episodic events introduced to serve as exposition of theft relation to their jobs, family and love.

I have demonstrated that DEEWAR is a polysemic text capable of generating multiple meanings. What follows from this, I am arguing is that it is precisely this quality that ensures its success with a wide audience, since different segments of the audience will find different aspects of the film (family drama, action, religious or social and political issues) appealing. I wish to take a moment here to recount an interesting anecdote that illustrates how social situation can affect one's reading of the text On my last visit to India I was interviewing audience members about their response to popular Hindi cinema in a working class area in Delhi. Mukhtiar, a seventeen-year old boy, a dropout from high school, was comparing the representation of rich-poor relations on screen with those in reality. Mukhtiar himself has been working at odd jobs since he was about thirteen and at the time was working an astounding seventeen-hour work day as a bus conductor.

In Mukhtiar's opinion the screen representation of the rich as arrogant and the poor as honest and hard-working was true to life. When I asked whether he himself had encountered upper class arrogance in the course of his work, he reported the following incident. When he worked at a gas station, on one occasion he said a rich car owner threw a coin towards him as a tip for his service. At this point he said he immediately protested and asked the man to pick the coin and hand it to him as any self-respecting person would. Surprised, I commented that this was exactly what happened to the young Vijay in DEEWAR when he was a shoeshine boy. Mukhtiar suddenly looked embarrassed. He admitted that right after he had narrated his experience he remembered the same event had taken place in DEEWAR.

The point of this rather elaborate anecdotal evidence as far as I am concerned is not to establish the veracity of Mukhtiar's tale. What seems important to me is the fact that Mukhtiar's identification with the young boy in DEEWAR seemed so complete that it was almost like an incident that he feels happened to him, or that he likes to think he is capable of responding in the way the boy in DEEWAR did. What is evident from this example is what I have argued so far: different segments of the population negotiate the film and make sense of it according to their own specific situations.

In conclusion, I will reiterate what I have done in this essay. I have attempted to locate DEEWAR as a film text within the tumultuous politics of the early 70s, of which it stands as a referent in significant ways. The film captures the pulse of the period, the unrest and confusion, and it is this resonance with the times that made its success possible. I have also read the text within the metatext of the film industry, politics, state and the interrelation between these. Finally, I have presented a textual analysis, which draws on the model of "negotiation" between multiple meanings within the text, that compete for a dominant position and that get read by audiences who reconcile the conflicting interests according to their own location and experience within a social/ cultural situation.


1. DEEWAR credits—Director: Yash Chopra. Producer: Shrimurti Films. Screenplay: Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar.

2. Hall, Stuart. "Encoding/Decoding" in Culture, Media, Language. ed. Stuart Hall et al. Hutchinson. London, 1980. Pp. 128-139.

3. Mishra, Vijay. "Actor as a Parallel Text" in Quarterly Review of Film and Video vol. 2. Pp. 47-49.

4. Fiske, John. "British Cultural Studies and Television" in Channels of Discourse. Ed. Robert C. Allen. University of North Carolina. Chapel Hill. 1987. P. 255.

5. Brenan, Timothy. 'The National Longing for Form" in Nation and Narration. ed. Homi K. Bhabha. Routledge. London. 1990. P. 57.

6. Whether the representation in the film is faithful to what actually happened is not important. What is important is the fact that the circulation of such stories was accompanied by an acceptance of criminal activity in Indian political life. Criminalization of politics had arrived and was there to stay.

7. The nationalists opposed British imports that had systematically destroyed the indigenous industry through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, draining India's wealth to sponsor the Industrial Revolution in Britain. After independence protective tariff policies have continued, but controlling contraband material passing through the borders continues to be a difficult task.

8. Thomas, Rosie, "Sanctity and Scandal: The Mythology of MOTHER INDIA." Quarterly Review of Film and Video vol. 11. P. 15.

9. Gledhill, Christine. "Pleasurable Negotiations" in Female Specators: Looking at Film and Television. Ed. Deidre Pribram. Verse. London. 1988. P. 74.

10. "Common sense" here is used in the sense that Stuart Hall uses it, based on Gramsci's work. It is the dominant definition that acquires the weight of common sense.

I wish to thank Julia Lesage, Arvind Rajagopal, Jyotsna Kapur, Naggi and Manji Pendakur for their valuable comments on this paper.