The Music Room (1958) | Criterion Bluray release

July 17th, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir:. Saryajit Ray | India | Drama | 99min | B&W

THE MUSIC ROOM (Jalsaghar) is probably the most exotically opulent of Satyajit Ray’s films, sumptuously showcasing the traditional cultural references of his native Bengal.

Based on a short story by Tarasankar Banerjee, it tells of a rather arrogant 1920s Bengali aristocrat, Roy, who rides on his enormous ceremonial elephant, called Moti, and lives a closeted life during in his rambling palace overrun with bats and threadbare treasures, and determined to keep up appearances despite his gradually dwindling financial resources. Married to the graceful and long-suffering Mahamaya (Padmadevi), he intends to offer the finest tradional religious and cultural education to his son Khoka, mortgaging his wife’s precious jewels in the process. He is played with elegant restraint by Chhabi Biswas, who was to die several years later.

In the vast and crumbling music room of the palace, surrounded by portraits of his illustrious ancestors, he organises one last musical soiree serenaded by Calcutta’s most prestigious and sought after players, while he swallows his pride and drowns his sorrows in his servant’s handmade cocktails – a fly symbolically drowns in his glass as he stares mesmerised by the memories of his more illustrious past.

Meanwhile, his chief guest, Mahim Ganguli “I’m a self-made man, no pedigree” who has arrived for the evening in a car with a screeching horn, stretches out to throw the dancer Krishna Bai (exquisitely played by Rushan Kumari) a tip, but his arm is caught by the zeminder’s walking stick, reminding him of the protocol that his arriviste credentials have failed to recognise.

Subrata Mitra’s delicate lighting captures the joy and despair on the faces of Roy and his servant and evokes the magical riverside landscapes. And the music is evocative in recalling the ancient traditions of the aristocrat’s cultural heritage, offering fabulous entertainment in the process.

And although Ray seems in awe of his central character, what really comes across is their mutual respect, admiration and sadness for the death of this rich cultural past, and ultimately commanding our acceptance and sympathy for his pathetic but endearingly tragic hero. MT


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