This is not about the plot and it’s not about the message. No developed characters, no goals that move the story forward, no life-changing realizations that bring on the resolution. The Party is purely about Peter Sellers causing utter chaos at a Hollywood party and making us laugh with every single move, expression and line of his. Writer-director Blake Edwards keeps it simple, quiet and sober to begin with, allowing his protagonist to set the pace and take his character’s hilarious and unintentional madness to a higher level during each scene. The last few minutes of the film are pure psychedelic anarchy and together with Steven Franken playing the drunken butler, the two actors orchestrate the ultimate party disruption that has kept audiences laughing hysterically since 1968.
Written by Blake Edwards, Tom Waldman and Frank Waldman, The Party is about Hrundi V. Bakshi, a very gentle and kind extra from India who is trying to get his big break in Hollywood. As his simplemindedness and constantly accepting smile keep getting him into trouble, the Indian actor is accidentally invited to an upscale industry party, to which he fortunately for us, unfortunately for the guests, chooses to go. Everything starts peacefully and in good taste. Lounge music is playing in the background, cocktails are passing through on silver trays and Peter Sellers’ Hrundi V. Bakshi is trying to mingle with other people from his field. Slowly but gradually, he fails. And increasingly, his stupidity causes insanity which soon becomes difficult to control. When the butler has a little too much to drink, the party officially turns into something the host will be fruitlessly trying to forget for a long time.
The Party is based on Peter Sellers and Steven Franken’s exquisite improvisational skills. Although the script does contain some great lines, if these hadn’t been delivered this brilliantly by the two actors, the film would merely be a set of comedy sketches, grossly exaggerated and sometimes tiring. Peter Sellers, however, works hard to make these insane situations that his character involuntarily finds himself in, seem very real, funny and incredibly entertaining. Steven Franken stands more than worthily by his side and Blake Edwards is proven right to trust his lead cast this much. The script is minimal and basically consists of different awkward situations that allow Sellers to do as he wishes, having the director filming, the audience laughing and the rest of the cast trying to keep up.
Sometimes I feel like the film could be seen as slightly racist, since Hrundi V. Bakshi is demonstrated as extremely naïve and kind of slow. At the same time he does grow on us, we sympathise with him and want him to get out of this mess he accidentally put himself in, a winner. We do cringe at everything he does, we do look down on him at times, but we also want to jump into the screen and help him and this is somehow what makes him harmless and what makes his unawareness endearing. Although Sellers covered in brown makeup and repeating “birdie num num” in a stereotypical Indian accent, could be seen by an Indian audience as somewhat condescending, in some way, that’s exactly where all the comedy lies and this proves to be the sole purpose of this film’s existence – to play with someone who is entirely oblivious to everything happening around him, explore how far certain situations can take his bad luck and have a good laugh about it, just like Peter Sellers had managed to do so brilliantly before The Party, in The Pink Panther, alongside Blake Edwards once again.
The relationship between Sellers and Edwards has undeniably been a very productive and successful one. In the Inspector Clouseau film series, their visible trust in one another makes every scene an incredible comedy sketch that we will always refer to. When the duo partners up with drunken butler Steven Franken for The Party, the comical timing reaches just as high. Controversial comedy indeed, but when watched with an open mind, brilliant. Exaggerated, with an over-the-top ending, yes, but can anyone not enjoy this psychedelic, chaotic and insane comedy of an Indian extra hilariously crushing a boring and pretentious Hollywood party?
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