Party (1984) – A forgotten gem by Govind Nihalani
It starts with a rousing monologue. The revolutionary soliloquoy leaves no space for ambiguity as far as the ideology of the filmmaker is concerned. But yet, it contains enough to indicate the director’s capacity for unbiased introspection. Nihalani seems to be place his audience in a quandary. “Which one is deadlier? Can you differentiate between the napalm that obliterates thousands or the solitary hand grenade thrown at the car of a dictator?” he seems to ask. But as one can see, there are no easy answers to his questions.
A Beast that Rarely Surfaced
Govind Nihalani’s Party (1984) is a rare beast even amidst the already rarefied field of alternative Indian cinema. His previous parallel cinema entries such as Akrosh and Ardhsatya are far better known and widely seen. In comparison, Party is a more demanding watch with a “protagonist” that does not show up, characters without any clear moral standing, and of course its chamber drama format requiring strict attention to spoken words from an audience used to spoon-feeding. It was probably aired once on DD back in the 90s, much to the chagrin of the deprived viewers waiting for their weekly dose of entertainment.
A Decadent Soiree
Coming back to the film, Party is mainly about an idealistic and privileged young man who goes to the hinterlands to take on the crony capitalists and to fight alongside the poor and downtrodden tribal folks – nothing unusual for the youth of the Naxal era. Anyways, he is more like Godot whom we never get to see. What we see is what he left behind – a high society of self-serving intellectuals, poets, thespians, playwrights, novelists and their rich patrons. What we see is what he left behind – a high society of self-serving intellectuals, poets, thespians, playwrights, novelists and their rich patrons. One of them wins a major award (or probably “manages” the win). So, a party is thrown in his honour by a rich widow who also happens to be an art patron, in a big mansion where everyone else gathers.
They meet, drink and chat. Their individual relationships, subtle conflicts, views and phobias all become clearer with time and eventually the discussion moves towards the absent protagonist – a man who also used to be a budding poet and who could have easily become one of them and lived an easy, hedonistic life. They express surprise and mild indignation at his idealistic (read silly) choices but gradually develop doubts over their own cowardice and selfishness as they arrive at the harrowing climax.
Party is based on a stage play by Mahesh Elkunchwar and so it owes the format to its stage origins. Party is based on a stage play by Mahesh Elkunchwar and so it owes the format to its stage origins. Nihalani cleverly uses various parts of the same mansion to stage secluded sequences to establish the dynamics between different characters.Nihalani cleverly uses various parts of the same mansion to stage secluded sequences to establish the dynamics between different characters. His regulars like Naseer and Om Puri appear, but only for bit parts. The biggest surprise here is the primary cast. Manohar Singh, Rohini Hatangadi, Shafi Inamdar, KK Raina etc are generally relegated to templatized sidekick roles in mainstream films. There are others like Vijaya Mehta and Gulan Kripalani who are not seen very often. Amrish Puri is there too, in one of his few “normal” roles, along with the beauteous Deepa Sahi as a melancholy single mother.
Party is based on a stage play by Mahesh Elkunchwar and so it owes the format to its stage origins. Nihalani cleverly uses various parts of the same mansion to stage secluded sequences to establish the dynamics between different characters.
The film serves as a rare vehicle showcasing the full range of these brilliant stalwarts. The entry of Shafi Inamdar specially stands out , who acts in a play within the play and then seamlessly metamorphoses into the person who he really is – an arrogant and self-serving diva. In fact Party is full of many such meta-moments. There is a moment when one of the characters asks a more aloof observer in the party whether he is “watching” them. In another prolonged conversation with a socialite, a rookie poet with humble origins discusses his ideology, gradually confessing his doubts over his own stance. The question also arises whether aesthetics is as important or ideology. There is yet another scene when a sleazy “mass” playwright makes a scathing remark on the doyens of “culture” who speak of the lower classes but yet make fun of their tastes.
Party is verbose and the viewer is left with these interactions even after the film ends, irrespective of one’s individual ideologies. All these interactions in the film are done in chaste Hindi, which may sound like Greek to some of the millennial kids nowadays. In a way, it is a perfect reminder of everything that we are gradually losing out on in terms of society and culture.
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