Party (1984)
A scene from Party (1984) directed by Govind Nihalani. [Photo: Screenshot]

Most art must ask itself a crucial question, what is it attempting to say? Of course, this isn't a simple question and when the conditions and the numerous considerations are piled onto the art, it makes it harder. One of the most important aspects of culture has become a political debate. 

In the 21st century, freedom of expression is both taken for granted and too seriously in the same stead. What's more, while seem feel art needs to be more political, some would express caution there. This dichotomy, believe it or not, has been a timeless question. One that the film 'Party' which released in 1984 dared to understand.

The 'artist' and the 'human'

The curious thing about art is that each person finds something else to hold on to. Party a Bollywood film in 1984 featured a terrific albeit towering cast, Om Puri, Vijaya Mehta Amrish Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Deepa Sahi, Rohini Hattangadi and many others. The film directed by Govind Nihalani was meant to follow its characters through a 'party'.

The film shed light on the upper echelons of society in an event that serves as a facilitator to show them as such. The satire with a message, the film also follows the dinner party conversations, where the characters discuss society, art, politics and the like. The movie of course is much more than the few scenes in the article, but these still speak to our times.

In one short scene from the film, one of the conversations between the characters of Om Puri and Amrish Puri really speaks to what's happening in society today. Perhaps, over time art loses its meaning and the debate between right and wrong will continue. 

Party 1984

In the scene, Avinash a journalist played by Om Puri tells the guests making a hard-hitting statement, that artists must use their medium for change, "Look with a little attention and you see, every government uses art as a medium to keep its standing intact. If we need to bring foundational change, then we have to use our art, our medium as a weapon." 

Speaking about art as a means of protest, Bharat played by KK Raina questions Avinash "Do you mean the message of art will just become a weapon of politics, does it not have its own independent nature?"

"If an artist isn't politically-committed, then his art isn't relevant, why doctor?" Avinash replied. That sets the scene for us, the dilemma between the arts and politics and where these fine lines blur is a question that society is still asking. Whether it's what's happening in Bollywood, journalism or where protests and causes are concerned on social media.  It might also be a question of what the artist must protest. 

Pitching into the ongoing debate at the party, Amrish Puri's character put forward a view, "An artist may be inclined to believe in any political ideology or become a member of any political party, that's his personal decision. I don't believe it signifies whether his art is relevant." That surmises it for us. When it comes to art and politics, it grows cloudy where personal opinions and the politics of a collective are concerned. Perhaps, in these times it's safer for artists to guard their political views. What makes his/her art relevant will be the art itself. 

He also makes it clear that "An artist has a responsibility to speak against injustice and arrogance." That's where things get complicated, even at present. Artists face the hurdle of comprehending a cause and further, choosing a side to stand on. Silence is as much trolled as speaking up is. 

In another instance further on in the scene, what the characters begin to debate is the choice the artist must make. Does the artist separate himself from his own humanity or not? The 'social commitment' that is often made the onus of the artist, is seen by some as unfair. In our society, there is a need for more social commitment and people taking responsibility for their actions, not just people in power, but the public. 

Another guest at the party, Bharat played by KK Raina asks Amrish Puri's character, "Doctor when we speak about social commitment doesn't art seem small. How do we say that aesthetics are more important or commitment? Then I think these questions are unimportant because we don't have the freedom to choose."

Avinash at this point asks Bharat whether he would take a moral stand on an injustice and Bharat's reply is what most would reply with, "As a human, I will definitely take one." However, as an artist, it becomes difficult. When Avinash questions how there can be 'two stands in one person', the debate heads to where we're at today. 

Of course, Bharat commits to his argument and says that he is the more 'moral' one. The subjective nature of 'morality' is what many make the mistake of quantifying. And yet, there's truth to the statement, how can the artist be human and still be a political being? Or, does he have to be political at all?

What we're left at the end of the debate, when we look at the media's reporting on issues these days or what we see on screens, art, content, whatever you may call it, is that it's the route one takes and a matter of perception. The artist's responsibility to himself or society can very well be considered a choice. More than that, action without responsibility can be problematic. Party asked the same questions in 1984 and rarely do we see Bollywood questioning art or at all questioning itself anymore.

In the movie, Avinash leaves us with thought after a steady crescendo, "At some point, the human and the artist will face each other and search for one answer. That's when we must decide. We have to. Do we want to live as an artist or as a human?" Clearly, the point hasn't yet come.