Party (1984) – The Silent Pain of the Artistic Middle-Class

Based on a Marathi play of the same name in 1976 by Mahesh Elkunchwar. This film grabs you and doesn’t let you go, either by its realness or by the craftsmanship of its story, which is in a sense in a commentary on art within an art based on art. Now, this movie is a large ensemble and I can’t name all the people or their characters, so this will be more theme-based analysis/review. 


Going on for an evening, this party is in honour of Divakar Barve, who has received a literary award for his contributions to Indian Arts and Film. All guests are come, except for the writer turned activist Amrit. 

This movie is specifically targeting and satirising the Middle-Class of India — how they lived in the 80s and in a strange way also how they live now. They speak English, are involved in some way in the film industry (the movie is set in Bombay), drink alcohol, strict etiquette on what to speak and say and are all about the importance of art and culture. In a way, it’s about the silent classification of one thing against another that society puts on us and we inherit because we have been taught to classify things against one another since there must be a winner and a loser, even when there doesn’t have to be. 

Courtesans – the holders, the inheritors, the performers, the artists, the writers and singers of art for centuries. Rekha in Umrao Jaan (1981), playing the most famous Indian courtesan in all literature and now, also cinema. 

This is, after all, a group of Middle-Class intellectuals going to a party honouring a man who has received an honour for Indian Arts and Films. As two party goers are in a car the radio is on and the song Dil Cheez Kya Hai from the classic Umrao Jaan (1981) plays. The courtesans or tawaifs might have been the keepers of their own art for centuries, but now, film and radio have both made them famous and the art accessible to almost all who have the means. 

Now, I am Middle-Class and have been to many of these kinds of parties where the atmosphere is much the same. It is all about how one looks, how one is above those one can generalize as the “masses” to make a collective judgement upon, rather than think of them as individuals with their own hopes and dreams. Then there are those intellectuals who are for the rights of the masses but live in comfortable houses while speaking such things and as we see correcting others for not fitting in. In a way, it is a silent pain not to say what one means, not being able to be who they want to be and criticizing others rather than self-analyzing themselves. All the while they drink fine liquor and have servants for their every need, but as long as this self-examination is not done then the Middle-Class can’t free themselves of this cage they have built for themselves where art is highly appreciated, but the idea that the “masses” are to be pleased with simple stories, while the “intellectuals” are to appreciate the high art of things like Shakespeare, poetry and intellectual debate about the lower classes and tribals, but not doing anything to change the situation (like Amrit) or seeing them as people, or just seeing their servants as people for that matter. It is all just dinner table talk, after all. Nothing serious. 

Then there are the older people, also the daughter-in-law, who is at the party filled with all this etiquette and restrictions in what to say and the most important things are said far from the hall, but even then there are words of warning said of the “mass” of people inside the house. While the youngsters and later on some of the guests are freely dancing to the latest English hit, free from all the restrictions of the party below, yet the English song is a show of class in itself. 

Young Om Puri is in this, chagning the whole situation of the dinner and shaking this pleasant dinner into something more serious and real, essentually the thing they have been avoiding this whole time

The film also concentrates on the women’s lives, showing how some are so used to their lives in this environment they can only rebel in unique ways; becoming political, making snide remarks, drinking or eating more, trying to close a door to their mother, cheat, they beg for affection and absolutely no one is happy in all of this! The ones who show their feelings are best to be left by the wayside, even when they are in real pain. But the important thing is how one looks to society rather than being happy and satisfied with oneself? “Screw Society,” one character says, and she’s right. That should be the motto, but instead, it is “Ignore, pretend, high brows and intellect without contradictions”

The men can leave, they can become activists, but the women have to stay because of so-called “tradition”. This shows more prominently in Amrit’s wife who is left alone in the house of her relatives and is harassed by a family friend (or relative?) and who is told to shut up and go on with the performance. But she bites back, pointing out the hypocrisy of the whole conversation and even says the word ‘Parasite’. During this, her brother, who has the wild party and is dressed casually, while she was specifically told what sari she should wear, is on the side of his mother like the mama’s boy he is. 

Overall the film is very good and well done. A bit slow, but then again so are many other Parallel Cinema works. It has relatable performances and captures the unending theatre of the Middle-Class life in one evening. 

Thank you for reading!

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