Inspector Ravi Verma receives an award for his bravery. But during his speech, he credits his mother as the truly deserving recipient of the award and urges her to accept it. From this moment, the story is told in flashback.
Ravi and Vijay are the two sons of union leader Anand Verma. Anand is a loving family man, doting on his wife Sumitra and his sons. He is also leading the workers in a strike demanding better working conditions. But the factory’s owner forces Anand to sign a compromise document by threatening to harm his family. Unable to live with his guilt, Anand absconds, boarding a train with no destination in mind. His older son, Vijay, becomes the target of the workers’ resentment. They tattoo the words ‘Mera baap chor hai’ (My father is a thief) on his arm, forever marking him with his trauma. To escape this harassment, Sumitra and her two sons migrate to Bombay.
Living in dire poverty, Sumitra struggles to provide for her two sons. One day she sees young Ravi wistfully observing a school assembly and laments her inability to send her sons to school. Vijay offers to start working as well so that Ravi could be sent to school. Poverty and social oppression turn Vijay into an embittered young man. He refuses to enter the temple with his mother and brother as he feels betrayed by god.
Vijay grows up to be a dock worker, while Ravi graduates with honours from college. Despite his academic accomplishments Ravi struggles to find a job. One day Vijay decides to stand up to the goons extorting money from the dock workers. His bravado attracts the attention of a wealthy smuggler named Darvar who wants to enlist him to foil the plans of a rival smuggler Samant. Vijay’s desperado attitude and presence of mind proves invaluable to the operation. His rise is meteoric and he soon becomes Darvar’s right hand man. In the process, he also earns the enmity of Samant. He meets a dancer named Anita one night and begins a relationship with her.
Meanwhile, Ravi decides to become a police officer, a decision which shocks Vijay. Ravi soon learns that Vijay is the one leading the gang of smugglers and is heart-broken. Their mother is torn between the two, but chooses to side with Ravi even though it is Vijay she loves the most. Once inseparable brothers, now their differing ideologies separate them irrevocably. They are soon put on a collision course which ends in tragedy for Vijay. When Vijay learns that Anita is pregnant, he decides to leave his life of crime and marry her. But Anita is murdered by a vengeful Samant. Enraged, Vijay murders Samant and his men in cold blood. As the police surround him, he tries to escape and is chased by his brother. Ravi ends up shooting and fatally injuring him. Vijay dies in the temple in his mother’s arms.
Deewar perfected the ‘angry young man’ persona created by Salim-Javed in Zanjeer (1975). Although Vijay is shown to be misguided, the audience’s sympathies strongly sided with the working class rebel. The character was modelled on real life gangster Haji Mastan Mirza. The film cemented Amitabh Bachchan’s status as one of the biggest stars in the country and played a major role in elevating the status of script-writers in the industry. It proved to be hugely influential, inspiring remakes in Tamil (Maagadu, 1976), Telegu (Thee, 1981), Malayalam (Nathi Muthal Nathi Vare, 1983) and Hong Kong cinema (The Brothers, 1979).