Though its Indo-Pak politics are more Rambo than Romeo, as a barnstorming, jingoistic action movie, “Deewaar” delivers. Crossing “Missing in Action” with “The Great Escape,” and stirring in a soupcon of “The Bridge on the River Kwai” for good measure, this hunk of hokum earns its badge of honor post-intermission after a rather labored set-up in the first half. Advance word and star cast (including vet Amitabh Bachchan in his third pic in as many weeks) was set to ensure a high-shooting opening June 25, and Asian action geeks in the West should seek it out on ancillary.
Plot has Major Ranbir Kaul (Bachchan, in full Alec Guinness “Kwai” mode) rotting in a Pakistani POW camp for the past 33 years but still dreaming of returning to India. Pic opens with his 18th escape attempt, during which another prisoner manages to hightail it out and smuggle a message to Kaul’s folks back home in Delhi that he’s still alive.
Kaul’s wife, Nanda (Tanuja), never stopped believing he was alive, but his son, Gaurav (Akshaye Khanna, bland), long ago lost hope. Hearing the news, Gaurav decides to launch a one-man mission to bring dad home alive, smuggling himself over the border in a heap of dead bodies, decapitating a nosy cop on the train to Karachi, and hooking up with Jabbar (Akhilendra Mishra), one of the capital’s oppressed Hindu minority. As soon as he arrives, Jabbar’s cute daughter, Radhika (Amrita Rao), starts eyeing him.
Meanwhile, Kaul and the prisoners have been transferred to another camp — a spacious lakeside set by art director Jayant Deshmukh — where Kaul meets fellow prisoner Khan (beady-eyed Sanjay Dutt, in a typically buccaneering role). Khan engineers a breakout (that doesn’t include Kaul) and ends up the only survivor. In fact, he’s spared partly thanks to the sudden appearance of Gaurav.
Opening reels are over-heavy with Kaul’s physical humiliation by his leering Pakistani captors and his stiff-backed resistance, with the first song (sketching the prisoners’ defiance) not coming until 50 minutes in.
Remaining four numbers, including a powerfully rhythmic patriotic chorus by the prisoners, are all packed into Part Two, in which Khan turns himself in and helps Kaul & Co. in a breakout that involves tunneling down into a drainage system.
This second half is action almost all the way, with a final reel in the Indo-Pakistan desert that still manages to pull another visual surprise out of the tightly packed bag.
Milan Luthria (“Chori chori”) directs with a good eye but little patience for downtime, aided by Aadesh Shrivastava’s wall-to-wall heroic score.
Bachchan gives the film its backbone of patriotic dignity, but it’s Dutt who brings real character flavor to the proceedings, as the cynical, self-serving Khan. Rao, a rising actress with a fresh appeal (“Main hoon na”), gets few chances to shine, though her slithery attempted seduction of Gaurav is a musical highlight, plus a welcome relief from all the testosterone.
Title means “The Wall,” but pic bears no relation to Yash Chopra’s well-known 1975 gangster pic of the same name, in which a young Bachchan also starred.