LIKE A COLOSSUS THAT STRADDLES TWO WORLDS, YASH CHOPRA paints on two canvases. Here, in red, is a universe of pain, anger, rejection and rebellion. There, in purple and pink, is the inner landscape suffused with the myriad hues of that primordial emotion: love. The genius of Chopra lies precisely in this two-pronged forte. For, while directors, by and large, carve a niche for themselves in a particular kind of cinema - action, romance, comedy, melodrama - Chopra seemed to have uttered the last word in two worlds. That of anger and rebellion in Deewar (1975) and the agony and ecstasy of love in films like Kabhie-Kabhie (1976), Silsila (1981), Lamhe (1991) and Darr (1993).
The master craftsman that Chopra is, he succeeds in sculpting two worlds which are equally complete in their own way. The angry young man might have been first created by Salim and Javed in Prakash Mehra's Zanjeer (1973), but the image acquired flesh and blood in Chopra's Deewar. It was here, as a petty dock worker-turned smuggler, that the character of Vijay, played time and again by Amitabh Bachchan, grew iconic in proportion. Till date, Vijay Verma remains one of the most consummate study of anger and rebellion in popular cinema. One that spawned a series of clones in the years to come, ever since Deewar created a storm at the box office in 1975.
What was so peculiar about the life and times of this desi Jimmy Porter? Why did his weltshmertz hold a mirror to popular discontent? What was the essence of his anger that lent an unnerving universality to it? In short, how did Chopra succeed in bottling the tensions and the conflicts of the acidic 1970s into a single character?
Born to a working-class family, Vijay might have ended up as just another blue-collared fellow with all the attendant class attributes. He could have been just one more industrial hand who contributed his bit to national progress. This could have meant endless years of a daily grind comprising a ten-hour shift of turning a cog in a wheel. Minus complaints, he could have been satiated in penury, happy in a hand-to-mouth existence. Almost like the rest of the good fellas who worked like oxen during the day, drank away their blues by night and snatched the usual familial pleasures despite destitution. Everything could have been calm and ordered. But for class conflict, scheming industrialists and a father who preferred to place family over principles.
Vijay's tale of woe began when his father, a trade unionist, sold out the workers' strike for the welfare of the family. The leader got back his family (which had been abducted by the factory owner and his hoodlums), but lost his honour. Ridiculed by his fellow workers, he had no option but to vanish into oblivion, leaving his family to fend for itself. Again, it might have turned out right, if the busteewallahs (slum-dwellers) had just left the hapless ones alone. For making ends meet was not so much a problem for a mother (Nirupa Roy) who drew her shakti (strength) from the gods and goddesses she diligently venerated. But the lad Vijay was made to pay for the sins of his father. Waylaid on his way from school by an inebriated gang, he was branded for life with a tattoo that hailed him as the son of a thief. 'Mera baap chor hai', they inscribed on his hand. Four words, nevertheless enough to steal away his laughter and childhood and transform him into a moving ball of fire.