It starts with a rousing monologue. The revolutionary soliloquy leaves no space for ambiguity as far as the ideology of the filmmaker is concerned. But yet, it contains enough to indicate that he is also capable of unbiased introspection.
“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 asks. But as one can see, there are no easy answers to his questions.
Govind Nihalani’s Party (1984) is a rare beast even within its rarefied field. 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” who does not show up, with characters without any clear moral standing and of course with its chamber drama format requiring strict attention to spoken words from an audience used to spoon-feeding. It was probably aired once in 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, it 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 Naxal era (probably eluding to areas like Bastar, Chattisgarh). Anyway, he is more like Godot who never appears (well…almost!). 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” it). So, a party is thrown in his honour 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, 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. Nihalani though 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.
It is a rare occasion when some of them got to showcase their full range. Specially stands out the entry of Shafi Inamdar, 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 the film 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 discuss his ideology, gradually confessing his doubts over his own stance and questioning whether aesthetics is important or ideology. There is yet another when a sleazy “mass” playwright makes a scathing remark on the doyens of “culture” who speaks of the lower classes but yet makes fun of their tastes.
Party is verbose and we are left with these interactions even after the film finishes, irrespective of our 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 just perfect reminder of everything that we are slowly losing as a society and as a culture. 80s was the worst period for Bollywood. But parallel cinema made up for it. As of now we do not even have that consolation. The masters of the 80s are inactive nowadays and the indie movement is still too small to be significant.