Vijay: tall, unkempt, taciturn, teeth gritted together, spewing monosyllabic grunts for a voice, a veritable picture of suppressed rage. These became the identifying marks of the new hero as he metamorphosed from a shoeshine boy into a dockyard porter and eventually into a smuggler. Chopra's protagonists acquired iconographic proportions over the years. Perpetually at war against an unjust world, Vijay Verma set the agenda for rebellion and dissent in the popular cinematic discourse.
Nevertheless, Vijay's rebellion has always been an acceptable one. Chopra's angry young man has never really fought against systems; always against individuals. Midway in his climb towards social success and material advancement, the smuggler is asked to defend his immoral stand by an estranged family. Vijay fobs off all culpability and simply blames his so-called legal and moral transgressions on a host of industrialists, on the ones who forced his father to betray his tribe, the neighbours who branded him with the infamous tattoo; the lecherous builder who sacked his mother when she refused to accede to his lascivious demands. These were the enemies who had torn apart the happy family and turned the carefree kid into a seething volcano of hate and vengeance.
Nevertheless, both thematically and technically, Deewar painted one of the most complete pictures of social and personal angst. That Vijay Verma was an angry son, brother and lover was an undisputed fact. But somewhere along, his anger was directed towards wider entities too. Towards a few that robbed him of the security of a father-figure and a normal childhood, towards God who seemed to have turned his back to the family and towards society where might had become right and morals no longer made sense.
Of course, the pent-up fury of the protagonists acquires stormy proportions due to the careful delineation of the other characters too. Vijay's mother (Nirupa Roy) transcends the boundaries of her one-dimensional frame and becomes the repository of society's morals. Despite her unbounded love for her elder son, she consistently condemns his moral-legal aberrations and even walks out on him when his dishonest means of living are out in the open. Yet, she never loses her maternal fervour and her heart goes out to her errant son in his isolation. Ravi (Shashi Kapoor), the kid brother, grows up to become the good, clean voice of conscience articulated through the unwavering principles of an honest cop.
The success of Dee-war largely lay in the fact that it brought to the fore a new hero. One who was drawn from a different milieu altogether. When it came to retelling tales of poverty in films, it was mostly the rural poor that had hitherto found representation in popular cinema. For the rest, the characters were usually drawn from the frightfully rich or the comfortable middle class. Here for the first time was a hero who not only emerged from the working class, but whose silence and suppressed rage lent a voice to the angst of the urban poor. The unprecedented migration of destitute villagers into cities and towns had manifested itself in a mushrooming of slums all over. There in the underbelly of every big city were the hundreds of haphazard bustees (slum-dwellings), spilling over with the down and the outs, the unemployed, the underpaid strugglers and drifters.