First of all, a big thank you to reader Tulsi, who sent me my very own copy of Deewaar! Thanks, Tulsi! You made my day.
[If you call a one-sentence description of how the movie doesn't end a spoiler, then beware of spoilers.]
Deewaar won't get out of my head. I'm not sure what I make of it, and I'm not sure what the filmmakers wanted me to take away from it. It's sad. It's bleak. No bad deed is unpunished but no good deed is simple. The walls of Deewaar divide, not protect. The structures the characters inhabit are significant - the smuggler's dirty-money posh bungalow, the policeman's honest but modest rooms, the temple, the locked door of the warehouse where Vijay rains down justice on the extortionists - and it is meaningful when someone crosses from one into another. Even the construction of a wall injures our beloved Maa and leaves her vulnerable to demeaning, heartless creeps.
And what about that famous line, "Mere paas Maa hai": triumph or hope? For me the impact of this line was less from the words - I knew it was coming, and it seemed just the kind of thing that earnest and crushed Ravi would say - and far more from the context and what had come before. It's just the two brothers out in the street in the dark. When it's all over, is this scene what the movie is about? These two people who have made different choices and have to figure out how (or even whether, this being filmi) to live with the effects, fighting over the thing that binds them and never able to ignore their shared tragic origin? By the time Vijay confronts Ravi and he makes his famous retort, it was clear that poor Ravi really didn't have Maa at all. This is his great, sad tragedy, that no matter how many good things he does, he will never really have her, not wholly, not whole-heartedly.
Vijay's tragedy is a little less compelling to me. Carrying the mark of society's hatred of your vanished father, despite you being utterly innocent, is a horrible thing to live with grow up, but Vijay knew his choice to enter a life of crime was wrong and dangerous. "Choose" might be the operative word: if by the age of 13 or so you've seen one parent be driven out of town in shame/fear and the other suffer abuse despite her upstanding life, and then you volunteer to sacrifice your own childhood to provide opportunities for your baby brother, then maybe you don't feel that you have many choices open to you (after all, the educated and cheerful brother has little job luck either). But I think Vijay took the easier path of those the film makes open to him, and he gets the punishment that a filmi world demands. I really wasn't expecting the end, though; somehow I thought there would be reconciliation, that Vijay would leave his life of crime and die protecting Ravi from the avenging mob he left behind, and the fact that the movie ends as it does has left me feeling very uneasy. To my eyes, it's so distressing that he takes his mother and brother down with him - his choice (or whatever you want to call it, his life as he lives it) dooms his brother to fratricide and his mother to witnessing the loss of her greatest love in the setting of her safest place.* (Contrast this to Yash Chopra's later but similarly socially-themed Kaalaa Patthar, in which only the criminals suffer.)
It's just all so horribly sad. There was no good way out of this story. I could go on and on - I've been thinking about this movie nonstop in the days since I saw it - but I think this is the bottom line, the point to which all my questions and frustrations with the story return. It's very interesting but full of unfairness and inequity from both individuals and the world at large. There are a few tiny comforts in the movie, and they seem to come from the women, underdeveloped as they are. (The Maa character left me with yet more questions: why does she love Vijay more - and why does she say so?) (And what a waste of Neetu Singh, eh? She had nothing to do.) But they don't last and they aren't really integrated into the story. Nothing is easy here.
Before I stop writing, I have to name my favorite moment (other than the fabulous Aruna Irani qawwali), because it is so powerful and great: Vijay confronting Shiva in the temple, challenging the god to explain why his mother suffers so, to finally offer some help after her years of devotion. One thing I admire about Vijay is that he lashes out only when it's merited, and if I had had his life, I'd be screaming at the universe too.
* You could also argue that Ravi should have stuck to his original desire not to take on the smuggling case involving his brother and that by taking on the case he too is implicit in the tragedy. One could also argue that a real police commander would never assign an officer to a case that might require him to kill his own brother, but never mind.