Monday, May 7, 2012

Party (1984)

Govind Nihalani’s Party, based on a play by noted Marathi playwright Mahesh Elkunchwar, is indulgent cinema at its most brilliant. This irreverent indulgence however can be mostly attributed to the playwright, for it is set in the world of elitist art and theatre and there are long ramblings about the responsibility of art and its connections to politics. And thus, this is one of those rare Hindi movies that give the impression of being entirely written on paper before any of their shots were canned. It is the quintessential theatrical cinema, minus all its negative connotations. It is hard to remember any other such movie where long visceral monologues were the fodder for most of the narrative.


The movie is set entirely in one long party where the most elite and distinguished theatre personalities and journalists gather to celebrate the success of one of their own. This constrained time-frame and space builds up tremendous tension in the exchanges of many of the characters. But before the party is set in motion, the main characters get introduced one by one through a series of poignant scenes. A veteran insecure writer who is becoming stricken by the shallowness of his work, and his alcoholic and lonely girlfriend of ten years who craves for his attention; a bespectacled, fiercely independent, female journalist who is an open supporter of Maoists; an upcoming and hugely talented playwright who is grappling with the lack of purpose in his writing; a middle aged socialite who is throwing the party to celebrate her writer friend’s recent award, and her daughter who is a single mother waiting for the return of her lover, a talented young writer himself, who has gone to support and fight with the adivasis in the jungles of Andhra; a middle aged theatre star actor who has lost his own identity in the maze of iconic characters that he has lived and breathed. The troubles and emotions of all these characters collide and implode while they party and the wine flows…

Apart from these main characters under the spotlight, there are many other interesting peripheral characters that act as the director’s tool to make a comment on the moral depravity that is quite rampant in such high-society circles. The shallowness and superficiality that infests such people who are nothing but troubled souls from inside, quite unable to fight their own demons, is brought out remarkably through a series of exchanges that are quite intriguing to witness. And witness is what a stolid, sober, and quiet family friend of the rich hostess of the party does- Amrish Puri, once again after Aakrosh, in a role that is not quite connected to the main happenings in the narrative, but still is a vital and significant vehicle to channelize the director’s vision. He is the assured presence which is so unlike the rest of the people in the party, and yet in some ways as artificial as everyone else, for he chooses to take a back seat and let the show go on, despite his many reservations with a lot that happens during the course of the night. In some ways his character symbolizes a lot of people in our society who are dissatisfied and unhappy with the social happenings, but remain on the surface shielding themselves from the gaze of the dirty maze.

The political backdrop of the proceedings adds an intriguing dimension to all discussions between the lead characters. The growing social unrest in some corners of the country, and how some people some people pretend to be affected by it all is brought out wonderfully well through some dramatic exchanges. This backdrop also gives an opportunity to the makers to debate and discuss an issue that evidently is of great importance to them- the intertwining of art and politics and can both be really kept separate from one another. The last half an hour or so is devoted exclusively to this debate, and the rest of the things are relegated to the background. This change of texture is not exactly sudden, but is still quite stark. To many it may come across as too quirky, but it is nothing but an honest expression of an artist’s most personal thoughts and conflicts...

Some of the leading theatre personalities of that time make up the ensemble cast; however the two champions of parallel cinema of that time- Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri are given very small but significant cameos to play. All the actors do a seemingly fabulous job, but it has to be said that hardly anyone of them has been made to transcend his or her comfort zone. The written material is so strong and emphatic, and the treatment is so very much like a theatre play, that these veterans of the stage would have hardly found it very challenging.

Parting Note: Party is one of Govind Nihalani’s finest works, if not the finest. However it is hard to infer how much of its finesse can be attributed to him, and how much of it is the brilliance of the playwright who has written the play. It is certainly a much watch for all those who like watching unconventional cinema.



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