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The Strength of Characterisation

By Jaideep Sen

Salim Saab was once asked in an interview what he considered to be his biggest strength in writing and he instantly said, “characterisation”.

Characterisation is at the heart of the story which is evident in every film that Salim and Javed Saab have written. In Zanjeer, a child who has witnessed - and is subsequently haunted by - the killing of his parents grows up to be in Salim Saab’s own words a “high strung” character who’s extremely combustible. Having been a victim of injustice, he cannot tolerate it, especially when it happens to others. The outrage of Inspector Vijay Khanna in the hospital when Mala, the knife sharpener, refuses to identify the truck driver is testimony to the hero’s characterisation.

In their latter work, Vijay became a representation of the no-nonsense crusader of justice, whether against the system in Zanjeer, or against society for the ill-treatment of his parents in Deewaar or even against his biological father for abandoning his mother in Trishul.

Coming to Trishul, Salim Saab had once mentioned how a very respected film maker after seeing the first half of the film had told him that the film wouldn’t work because a son bringing down his father would be rejected by the audience. Salim Saab had told him to watch the second half and that his opinion would change after seeing the scene where Balwant Rai unaware that RK Gupta is Vijay’s father abuses RK Gupta. Vijay slaps him for this and Geeta questions him about it when at every step he has worked towards destroying Gupta. That’s the moment when the strength of Vijay’s characterisation comes to the forefront. The strong value system is embedded into the character so much so that even in enmity, there needs to be dignity. What’s between RK Gupta and him is between them and nobody else has the right to trespass into that territory.

Another master stroke that the Masters of the Pen, Salim Saab & Javed Saab created was the flip side of the coin in the form of a lighter character epitomised and immortalised by the legendary actor Shashi Kapoor whose take away of the situation was a little more forgiving which is why he did not see life through the same intense binoculars that Vijay did. This provides the buoyancy and humour that a film also needs to engage with the audience.

Not that ShashiJi’s Shekhar in Trishul or Ravi in Deewaar are by any means weak characters as compared to that of Vijay. For, when the time comes, Shekhar stages a walk out from his father’s house and in Deewaar, Ravi on knowing the truth of his brother’s illegal activities takes Vijay head on, thus giving Indian cinema two of its most memorable clash of ideals scenes between two brothers and the greatest dialogue ever in ‘Mere paas Maa hain’ which got its thrust purely from the strength of characterisation. 

Jaideep Sen is a filmmaker and a connoisseur of the art of storytelling. 
Read his previous posts in this Series here: 


  1. I think the most revolutionary and hard-hitting dialogue in Trishul was when Vijay, in response to RK Gupta's question, "Tum Shanti ko kaise jaante ho?" replies, "Main us Shanti ko bahut achhi tarah se jaanta hoon Mr R.K.Gupta (emphasis on each syllable) - kyonki woh badnaseeb Shanti meri maa thi aur aap (slight pause) mere naajaayaz baap hain." Salim-Javed took the cliched 'naajaayaz aulad' (illegitimate son) trope and turned it on its head when Vijay accused Gupta of being the 'naajaayaz baap' (illegitimate father)! What a brilliant retort. Hats off to Salim-Javed.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. You've hit Bulls-eye,Neelesh👍It's takes being the "Legitimate" Fathers of Writing✍️like Salim Saab-Javed Saab were through their hey days to turn the concept of "Illegitimacy" on it's head the way they did & pointed out with such accuracy by You👌


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