Movie review | Parallel cinema | Satire | Social commentary | Party

Image Source: NFDC-National Film Archive of India via Twitter
Image Source: NFDC-National Film Archive of India via Twitter

Art & Culture

‘Party’ throws commentary, satire on socialites

The 1984 film mocks hypocrisy and the shallow ideology of socialites, who claim social commitment, transpire to superficial dogma, and are oblivious to horribility of reality. After 39 years, its relevance remains intact.

By Rebika Kunwar |

“I hate these parties. Whatever he likes, I hate it. I hate his friends… his books. Then I get drunk,” yells Mohini.

There are plenty of fascinating characters in the film Party (1984) directed by Govind Nihalani but when I first watched the movie — I wanted to analyse and learn more about Mohini Barve as she stands apart from the regular scenes where other characters are indifferent about her.

An ex-theatre actress who fell in love with theatre playwright Diwakar Barve seven years ago, her life devolves on the handful of love and appreciation from her romantic partner. She does not only suffer from ‘being unloved’, but has also developed a codependent relationship with him, dropping her acting career. She has a “complex nature” he could not deal with. Notably, they are not married.

Damyanti (played by Vijaya Mehta), who belongs to a family of politicians, throws a party to celebrate the success of her close friend Diwakar for winning a reputed literary award. Everyone present seems busy congratulating and praising Diwakar.

Snippets and long-winded ongoing conversations and occurrences in the party vividly shed light on different notions of each character, perfectly navigating their circumstances and ideology. 

“If the artist isn’t politically committed, their art is irrelevant,” an intense discourse breaks out in the throng of artists, their patrons, critics, and socialites.

Mohini Barve played by Rohini Hattangadi

Party has a perfect accumulation of an exemplary set of actors including Om Puri, Naseerudin Shah, and Amrish Puri, while the performance of Rohini Hattangadi as Mohini Barve is simply laudable.

Mohini does not participate in the discourse and her story is silently taking place in secluded rooms and balconies where she keeps herself intoxicated with alcohol. Yet her suffering doesn’t go unnoticed. Her multiple intense breakdowns convince viewers to sympathise with her (Hattangadi won the 1985 National Film Award for best supporting actress for this movie).

The story implies a tremendous and robust persona of women standing for themselves who are not afraid of the question: “What will people think?”

Drunk Mohini meanders around the balconies and rooms which metaphorically segregates her story from the rest. Unlike Damyanti, Sona, Vrinda (and other female characters from the movie), Mohini is painted fragile. She repeats again and again that she loves Diwakar, which seems like a reminder to herself. She is intimidated by the absence of Diwakar. When asked by Sona why she won’t leave Diwakar, she replies, “Where am I to go leaving Diwakar?”

Flipping to the intense discussion frame, an argument about the relationship between art, artist and their relevance ignites amid discussing the unjust situation taking place on the other side of their plush life. The contradiction of ideas between the characters is interesting to witness. 

One side of the argument speaks profoundly about connecting with the mass level through the means of art, to use art as a weapon to combat social injustice and oppression stating: “If an artist is unable to agitate new vision through their art then their work is ineffectual.” Meanwhile, contraposition calls attention to mere personal sentiments which seem egoistic to an extent. Unable to ingest the jarring reality, illogical arguments are passed on to twist the conversation to their ease. 

A sense of inferiority is added to the narration of Mohini’s character constantly by Diwakar himself. He diminishes Mohini as a mediocre actress, saying that she is capable of nothing so she chooses an escaping life with him to survive. She is troubled by the feeling of estrangement. The distorted psychosis complimented by her ruined makeup gives Mohini an insanely distinct spotlight.

When Mohini gazes into the mirror, with lines and wrinkles of terror, I see many Mohinis gazing out of the mirror feeling guilty, meaning she could do nothing about her situation but freeze and be stuck as she appears in front of the mirror. When she cries I could hear mild sobbing from each corner of the room.

Finally, she walks out of the room with Ravi (played by Shafi Inamdar), a theatre actor who loves her, signifying that she liberates herself from her relationship with Diwakar which has taunted her entire existence.

On the other side, in an attempt to blend in with the elites, some characters no longer remain with their ingenuity and lack affirmation to self-opinions. Arguments discontinue as Avinash (played by Om Puri) arrives at the party with horrifying news about Amrit, who is a poet and protagonist in absentia.

Amrit is popular among the socialites because of his poetries that speak of bringing revolution through art. From their conversation however, we come to know that he joined the rebel armed forces of Indigenous people fighting against the state to protect their land and forest resources from getting into the hands of corporates. They criticise this shift in his stance. 

“A few days ago Amrit got into a dispute with state security forces who manhandled him, and is currently being treated,” says Avinash. After receiving a call, he further reveals that security forces had cut Amrit’s tongue and he succumbed to his injuries during treatment. 

Avinash, Vrinda, and Diwakar (sitting) | Bharat and Agashe

Based on the Marathi play ‘Party’ of 1976 by the Indian playwright and screenplay writer Mahesh Elkunchwar, the Indian cinema was introduced to this timeless movie in 1984 with the same name — Party.

During the flourishing era of Parallel cinema, the film secured an aggressive spot where the story and characters were unorthodox to the then mainstream commercially-made Bollywood cinema — outstanding the many latter movies. 

Parallel cinema, also known as New Indian cinema, is a film revolution that started in the 1950s in West Bengal. Parallel Cinema (Samanantar Chalachitra, or Samantarala Calaccitra in Bengali) is an alternative to mainstream commercial cinema produced by Bollywood. Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Shyam Benegal, Rituparno Ghosh, and Ram Gopal Verma among others are a few significant figures from parallel cinema.

Mocking the inward hypocrisy of social elites, the Party dissects the shallow ideology of so-called “intellectuals” of society. It is a social commentary and satire on urban class elites who claim social commitment, transpiring to superficial dogma and being oblivious to the horribility of reality.

Alongside the rhythmic flow of reflection on ideology, the film doesn’t let go of its poetic and artistic expressions. Its relevance remains intact even after 39 years of its premiere — characters still sit deep-rooted in society while the narrative hasn’t quite changed. 

Each actor carries out their designated character effortlessly and leaves no room for criticism. The cast of the movie, coming from a theatre background, justifies the dramatic settings of the film very well. 

Nihalani has his own way of cinematography. He focuses on the minute movements of the character using a dark style of photography. He plays with lights to enhance the dramatic and intense setting and deliver the story splendidly. 

His subtle technique of adjusting and moving the camera makes him hidden as a cinematographer which allows viewers to focus more on the storyline. In some scenes, the use of unstabilised camera movement is present to construct a concept to the viewers as if they are present at the premise. Not to forget beautiful mirror shots well depicting the miserable situation and agony of Mohini Barve. 

The poems by Anil Rakeshi and Satyadev Dubey among others are mesmerising and garnish the gist of the movie effortlessly. The character of Amrit is not physically present in the film but the narration surrounding him flows among other characters. The poems sketch out a distinct outline of his character. 

Party intrigues viewers to ponder the purpose of art and its existence besides the aesthetics. I felt obliged to hold forth the discourse and accentuate a proper outcome, but the film doesn’t provide any — which I consider the beauty of the Party.

The tactics of the film make viewers scorn the loud-mouthed elites who chose to keep mum about the mishaps taking place as it does not cause any catastrophe to them.

Watch the movie after a decade or so, the movie still furnishes us with the same effect. 

Party (1984) 
Director: Govind Nihalani
Cast: Om Puri, Rohini Hattangadi, Amrish Puri, Deepa Sahi, Naseeruddin Shah, Vijaya Mehta, K. K. Raina
Genre: Drama 
Language: Hindi

Edit by Vivek Baranwal

Rebika Kunwar is an Art & Culture intern at the_farsight.

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