Why A Classic 1984 Film Still Remains Relevant In Its Dissection Of Upper-Class Guilt

Why A Classic 1984 Film Still Remains Relevant In Its Dissection Of Upper-Class Guilt
Party

Party is a bilingual Indian film from 1984 that was directed by Govind Nihalani. With an ensemble cast and a skit-like narration, this story takes us through a lavish party in South Bombay. It's a political satire with its primary focus on the upper class society in the city at the time and their lives which maintain a facade of luxury and elitism over emotional despair. With acclaimed stars like Om Puri, Amrish Puri, Rohini Hattangadi, Naseeruddin Shah, Soni Razdan and more, Party is a classic deconstruction of the bourgeoise guilt.

The film begins with multiple characters preparing and talking about a party celebrating an esteemed playwright, Diwakar Barve who has just been awarded the prestigious National Literary Award. It’s being hosted at Damyanti Rane’s house who is a widow and a patron of the arts. Since the beginning there’s a lack of joy or an apathy about the event in every unique character the film presents. Especially in Damyanti who forces her unwilling daughter, Sona to join the party and is already loading up on sedatives and alcohol to get through it.

From the beginning the story reflects the formalities of an upper-class society that the people must maintain to be included in the dynamic. Different stories of the characters collide as they meet up to join the party and there’s always a palpable fear of missing out among some who cannot skip this gathering of intellectuals lest they miss a chance of climbing the social ladder. The group is made up of elite artists, poets, playwrights and theatre actors who define themselves and live through their art. And that’s where the conflict begins.

Except for the establishing scenes in the beginning, the entire party is shot in real time as we move through a crowded room collecting conversations on feminism, Marxism, social commitments and thesis research. The central characters in the film represent broken aspects of humanity at the time — Vrinda, who is a leftist intellectual, quick to lash out, Ravindra, the theatre actor who can only self-reflect through his characters, Barve, the playwright who is revered and considered the keeper of the nation’s conscience but who hasn’t written anything original in years, repackaging the same ideas, and in the process destroying the one woman who loves him, Mohini, a former actress who gave up her best years waiting for Barve to marry her, Agashe whose art is based on sensational sentimentality that caters to the lower/middle class and disgusts Vrinda, Bharat, who is swinging between achieving fame and success like Barve and romanticising the integrity of Amrit who is missing from the party but remains the center of discussion in the film because he is the poet-warrior who has gone over to the other side of battle lines fighting injustice against adivasis unlike the rest. There’s also Ruth Abraham, an editor who cannot come to terms with her age and has arrived at the party with a boy toy that reminds her of her youth, and probably the most or only lovable character, Sona who’s fighting the stigma of being a single mother dodging advances by Agashe.

In this melting pot of pretension and twisted moral ambiguities, the human condition is dissected and left on the table for us to examine. Behind the laughters and the snarky comments, a convergence of multiple narratives occur that play with our own perspectives about art and its purpose. For the major part of the film all there’s happening is a load of conversations, some painful self-reflection and a lot of drinking, but as the night progresses to dinner, a debate on art and politics takes stage with Amrish Puri’s character, the doctor, making some solid statements about the entanglement of the two. We’re left to wonder how our morality affects our art and what we would choose between expression and action.

Nihalani’s film, that’s based on a identically titled Marathi play by Mahesh Elkunchwar, was created to reflect the political environment and government in the 80s but is still relevant to this day. The fetishization of the pain and struggles of the lower class by the bourgeoise club to create art that further becomes a subject of intellectual masturbation among the rich might sound familiar to some in today’s age. While the film is beautifully crafted to highlight these complex beliefs and hypocricies that the human mind builds, it does get intolerable at times, especially to those who despise elitism and academic analysis of art which in itself seems like a creative decision by the writers. 'Party' is a cornucopia of perspectives clashing and colliding with each other in a grand disaster powerful enough to shake things up in the viewers agencies.

You can watch the film here.

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