Director Govind Nihalani’s 1984 film Party was based on a popular play by acclaimed writer Mahesh Elkunchwar. Party is one of the first films to have been restored by the NFDC and re-released on DVD in a new print. It’s reassuring to see the film industry responding to the need for film preservation and as a result many more parallel films are making their way to DVD. Party is one of Nihalani’s best films. Events unfold in real time and the action largely takes place in the house of Damyanti Rane (Vijaya Mehta). Damyanti is a widow who we discover has regularly supported artists, mainly writers, of what appears to be middle class Mumbai. She hosts a party in honour of Diwakar Barve (Manohar Singh), a celebrated playwright. The party brings together petty bourgeois poets, playwrights, journalists and intellects that over an evening of intoxication and debate revel in their own righteous indignation. The title of the film has a double meaning as it also refers to political parties that individuals and groups subscribe to for validation of their ideological beliefs. The set up makes for a scathing piece of experimental cinema, reflecting analytically and slowly upon the often maligned question of middle class educated intelligentsia hiding behind their words and rarely involving themselves directly in the social and political issues that defines them as so called socially committed artists.
The party itself is a grotesque affair and functions vividly as an appropriate deconstruction of the pretentious, unfulfilled and clawing middle class guilt that lingers amongst many of the broken relationships. Actress Rohini Hattangadi as Mohini Barve, the wife of the self-obsessed poet Diwakar, is superb as a retired stage actress who is resigned to a life of self-hate and alcoholic abuse. Mohini’s disgust for her husband’s neglect is in fact an extension of bourgeois perversions; her smudged red lipstick becomes a symbol of such wider moral perversions. The only character we venerate is Amrit (Naseeruddin Shah) who is represented as a symbol of political activism. Amrit’s skills as a poet are a continuous talking point of the party and we discover he has abandoned his middle class lifestyle to go and fight for the rights of the disenfranchised and oppressed in a tribal community. Everyone at the party shows great respect and affection for Amrit. It is only with the appearance of Avinash (Om Puri) towards the end of the film do we finally see an outsider trash their middle class liberalism as apolitical dogma. Amrit’s death and bloody corpse staggering towards us the audience and some of the artists from the party is a powerful final moment as it reminds us that his pain is real, his pain is truth unlike the fictional pain endured by the artist. Party is a cold and at times savage dissection of middle class hypocrisy.