The political subtext of Govind Nihlani’s 1984 satire ‘Party’ is more relevant now than ever

Govind Nihalani Party (1984)

Govind Nihalani’s 1984 film Party, revealed the social hypocrisy practiced almost everywhere. Especially those who are positioned above the major strata of life. Party is a satirical deconstruction of bourgeois guilt – the apex of having to live with oneself without actually understanding what stand to take. However, like most cinematic chamber pieces it doesn’t just stop there. It also revels within the necessity of social consciousness in art and how art can never stand on neutral grounds.

It’s a stark example of how the rich, the privileged and the aspiring artists with intellectually simulated whataboutery succumb to just showing it off when it’s least necessary and keeping mum when speaking up is the only possible solution. Party is a film that stands truer today than it did back in 1984. The themes that Nihalani investigates in his film can be exacted to the scene where an actor performs a really moving performance on stage. Later, a fan questions him about the pain he feels when performing such pieces. He simply replies that it’s the character’s pain and not his. This is to say that an artist’s self-reflection can only be understood when he is not acting – which is almost never.

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Party (1984)

Party (1984) is full of startling scenes like this one. But mostly it focuses on these people who are simply neglecting the pathos that govern them. They fail to recognize and understand why certain people choose to oppose the notion of right and wrong plainly because humanity becomes more important to them than their art and commerce.

An important character remains absent in the entire narrative of Govind Nihalani’s films about the urban celebrating art without actually humanizing it. This character comes back to haunt those who choose to stand neutral in spite of having a piercing voice that is clear and an array of followers who would listen. The film on the other hand also goes ahead to satirize how these decent, privileged people wear a layer of empty, stale lonesomeness over their showy exterior.

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Coming back to staying neutral – the current political context where the country is divided into two ends, the big moolah of Bollywood fails to acknowledge – so much as bat an eye (Read: Tweet) on their stand. This simply double-checks Nihlani’s brilliant visionary perspective.

These artists and other art connoisseur are two different people in the context of the party itself. For what’s it worth – they act like they have everything figured out when they are tête-à-tête-ing in the open. Their real faces, on the other hand, is reserved for private conversations and self-actualized reveals behind closed doors. Their empty life, their lack of human perspective, their bourgeois existence all comes out only when the pomp and show of the party is neatly shut-off by a facade of fakeness.

Party (1984)

These people don’t just fail to acknowledge what the country is going through but they also take the next step of criticizing those who are actually taking a stand. Nihalani reveals how even people of the same family end up getting botched up by something that feels secure to them but can otherwise be dangerous to a bigger section of people around them.

Recently, in a politically-charged speech at the Screen Actors Guild, Robert de Niro – who won the lifetime achievement award, uncovered the US president’s blatant abuse of power as a deeply concerning issue. He also pointed out that he – who supposedly has a bigger voice than a million others, would lose no chance to voice his opinion on what’s right and what’s wrong as far as his country’s political and social atmosphere is concerned.

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Bollywood, on the other hand still chooses to be neutral because it might affect their work cycle. But is humanity bigger than personal gains? I’m sure people will later claim that their favorite stars don’t take a stand because they perform to please. They are not meant to be people who give their audience a reality check. However, in times like these – when not taking a side can uphill and destroy the very fabric of the society, their lack of empathy is absolutely alarming. Similarly, when I start this off as a think-piece on Govind Nihalani’s Party (1984) and end up making it all about politics, can both of them be separated from one another?

In Govind Nihalani’s 1984 satire on the privileged, a young poet who hasn’t yet become what he wishes to be rants about his anger on the political and social construct of his country. He says that as an artist it is actually impossible for him to be a standby when the society is blinding itself to a power struggle that is leading towards a collapse of society’s core values. He also points to his lack of privilege and a smaller voice that reaches a limited amount of people. Even though there’s a big chunk of human feelings in his words, the hypocrisy of making it to the big leagues can be seen clearly in his eyes.

This is to say that art and artists can revolutionize only when they base their art, not on false pretense but rigid truth. Both the privileged and underprivileged writers in Govind Nihalani’s film eventually fall prey to being haunted by the reality of not standing for the truth. They can still choose to stand neutral but their nights will be armored by the ghosts of blood-soaked truth and a horrid existence that is as empty as their words.


Shikhar Verma

Getting fat with the wife. Absolutely loves the all-consuming, indulgent world of cinema.