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Film Review: Party (1984)

“ताक़त बंदूक़ की फ़ौलादी नली से निकलती है या कविता के काग़ज़ी कारतूस से?

Image Credits: The Case for Global Film

Party (1984) is an exceptional drama-film directed by Govind Nihalani. It is based on a play of the same name written by Mahesh Elkunchwar in 1976. Often considered to be ahead of its time by its viewers, it is a prime example of Parallel Cinema in India. The film stars many renowned veteran actors like Vijaya Mehta, Om Puri, Amrish Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Rohini Hattangadi and so on. The powerful dialogues and poems penned by Anil Rakeshi and Satyadev Dubey add to the density and seriousness of the plot, thereby amplifying the impact of this film.

The plot of the film is set at a party organised by Damyanti Rane (Vijaya Mehta), a wealthy patron of arts, to commemorate the success of Diwakar Barve (Manohar Singh) who has been honoured with a literary award. It is attended by many other influential people and aspiring artists. However, the main highlight of every conversation is Amrit (Naseeruddin Shah), a skilled poet who has turned into a political activist to defend the land rights of the Adivasis. Despite being absent from the gathering, Amrit’s actions intrigue the fellow attendees. Some are sympathetic to the cause and stand in his support, some believe he is wasting his potential as a poet, some question themselves as Amrit’s connection with reality and unwavering empathy stands before them as a mirror to their own purposeless lives. Moreover, all the characters in the film are not just in a mere supporting role to the lead but have been given their own dilemmas. In fact, there is no specific lead as such. Each character advances the plot of the film in their own unique ways. The narrative makes it clear that the play served as an inspiration for the film. 

The film comments on the sociopolitical climate of the country while forcing the audience to question the role of artists in such scenarios and the relevance of their art. It also points out the shallowness of elitist circles while drawing up the character of Amrit as an opposing figure. In the first half of the film, we see the characters discussing politics, morality, and the position of women in society while enjoying themselves at the party. The son of the Damyanti Rane even brings his own friends to join them. They listen to Western music, drink openly, and often converse in English which already separates them from an average Indian person from a lower social class. This highlights the shallowness of these people. Their opinions about any situation around them seem to be a desperate attempt to establish intellectual superiority, which is futile since they are not actually contributing anything. The gentry or ‘so-called intellectuals’ lead empty and mundane lives while believing that they are adequately informed about prevalent issues when in reality they are the furthest from them. They feel conflicted and guilty only when their hypocrisy is pointed out - a classic portrayal of all words, no actions. The mood of the film changes with the entry of Avinash (Om Puri), a fiery journalist who had accompanied Amrit to the tribal area. His arrival is what shatters the false chauvinism these partygoers were harbouring in their heads. He brings the news of detainment of Amrit by the police for his involvement in the tribal area. He mentions the excesses of the government, unstoppable land grabbings and the worsening situation of tribals to which these people were completely oblivious. The other characters begin to question themselves as if they had just gained consciousness of their passivity and indifference. One such scene takes place in the second half of the film, where we see in a private setting, the rich patron tells Barve that her life has been meaningless and there will be no lasting legacy or contribution that will remind people of her presence unlike Barve who will be remembered for his art. She is just a ‘parasite’ who thrives on the popularity of the artists.This is when Diwakar Barve confides in Damyanti Rane. He tells her that they are the type of people who run away from life and reality. Despite being aware of this truth, they still choose to be in denial. When the truth does come to light, they are unable to bear it. Their ignorance is intentional and their conscience is non-existent. Even his own art is deceitful. All he does is identify the prevailing trends and dilute down the complexity of life in simple, uncomplicated words which appeal to people but ultimately, his work is empty and superficial. His work only gives an impression of substance and value but is useless to any common person. “क्या मतलब है तब कला का? संस्कृति का? कोई साझा नहीं था मेरे साहित्य का उनके दुख के साथ।”

Image Credits: IBTimes India

The peak moment of the film is the debate between Avinash and Bharat (K.K. Raina) during the last thirty minutes of the film regarding the relevance of art and the position that an artist should take in politics. What is the purpose of art? What makes art relevant? Is the relevance determined via art’s aesthetics or the message that it propagates among the masses? We see that Bharat who is an aspiring young artist is influenced only by Amrit’s proficiency in poetry and does not seem to care much about his determination or activism. All he wants is the same popularity for himself because he believes that there is nothing he can contribute to society. He writes for fame. Differences emerge as Avinash and Bharat try to ascertain the true objective of art. Avinash strongly believes that any artistic creation through which the artist can communicate with the general public is a weapon that should be used in any political or social conflict. “कला को राजनीति से अलग नहीं किया जा सकता।” Past governments have emerged and fallen at the nip of the pen of the artists. Each artist has a moral obligation to society that should be fulfilled. “अगर artist politically committed नहीं है तो उसका art relevant नहीं है।” 

Bharat questions this prerequisite for the relevance of art. “उसका कोई स्वतंत्र अस्तित्व नहीं है?” Will defining art solely in terms of its political purpose not limit its existence? Is it cowardly for the artist to be apolitical? This debate is somehow ended by the Doctor (Amrish Puri) who simply states that injustices must be fought against, regardless of the personal choice, biases and political ideologies of the artists. “अन्याय और दमन के विरूध आवाज़ उठाना कलाकार की अहम ज़िम्मेदारी है।”

They do not, however, come to a definitive conclusion. The film does not show that one viewpoint is superior to the other.  It neither establishes nor restricts the ultimate goal of art. 

Lastly, this film may not have cinematic visuals like the films produced at present but it sure compels us to abandon apathy and carry out our social responsibilities, leaving behind all false pretences. This film definitely deserves much praise from the audience.


By: Aanya Singh:

Aanya Singh is an undergraduate student of philosophy at Hindu College, University of Delhi. She is a staff writer at Hindu College Gazette. Aanya has a profound appreciation for ethics and history. Her key interests and expertise lie in research, writing and editing. A learner in earnest, she tries to dabble in multifarious fields of knowledge.


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