Monday, February 27, 2012

The Music Room

Based on the short story by Tarashankar Bandopadhyay, Jalsaghar (The Music Room) is the story of an aristocrat whose lifestyle is fading due to modern times as he is desperate to save the music room that he loves so much. Written for the screen and directed by Satyajit Ray, the film explores the clash between old and new ideals during the final moments of Zamindar. Starring Chhabi Biswas, Padma Devi, Pinaki Sen Gupta, Gangapada Bose, Tulsi Lahari, Kali Sarkar, Ustad Waheed Khan, Roshan Kumari, and Begum Akhtar. Jalsaghar is an extraordinary film from Satyajit Ray.

Biswambhar Roy (Chhabi Biswas) is an old aristocrat who is famous and revered for his riches as well as hosting lavish concerts in his home. With the help of his faithful servant Ananta (Kali Sarkar) and house steward Taraprasanna (Tulsi Lahiri), Roy’s parties become events for those in high society. Yet, his wife Mahamaya (Padma Devi) is concerned about the fact that he’s spending a lot of money on these parties which included a manhood ceremony for their son Khoka (Pinaki Sen Gupta). Roy doesn’t think anything is wrong until a commoner named Mahim Ganguli (Gangapada Bose) who is about to start a business in Roy’s land. Roy gives him permission as he holds another party while Mahamaya and Khoka are out visiting Mahamaya’s ailing father. Things seem fine until things in Roy’s life starts to crash.

With Ganguli becoming rich and utilizing modern equipment like trucks and cars for his business, Roy’s life has been ruined as he has closed his music room and only has Ananta and Taraprasanna around him. When Ganguli offers an invitation to Roy to attend a party that will feature a revered dancer, Roy declines only to go all out in order to usurp the man who has threatened his prestige by holding one last concert in his home.

The film is a tale of a man’s aristocratic lifestyle that is known for having these amazingly rich and private concerts where that life is threatened by changing times led by a man who actually works hard for his riches. While it’s a film that explores the world of traditional values against modern idealism, it’s really about a man’s world being changed. It’s not these new ideas of modern life such as machines that is around him but it’s also the fact that this man has neglected his duties to tend to his land where his wife warns him about weather conditions that would ruin him.

Satyajit Ray’s screenplay doesn’t have a conventional narrative as it starts off with Roy on top of his home where he seems to have lost everything as he watches the land. Then he hears music as it goes back in time where the first act is largely about his time when he was this respected aristocrat who held these lavish parties. Then the film returns to that same image of him watching the land from his roof where the second act is him dealing with the loss of his life and dealing with Ganguli’s business. While Ganguli is a genuine man who respects Roy, he has a hard time trying to attain the same kind of respect due to the fact that he is always riding in a fancy car and openly flaunt his riches. Ray’s observation into these characters as well as the world of the rich is very engaging in the way he allows the audience to figure out what are they willing to do in order to gain respect.

Ray’s direction is truly mesmerizing in his presentation of the music scenes playing in the music room to the surroundings that he uncovers to tell this story about this man and the world he lives in. One of Ray’s key approach to the direction is the way he opens the film with an image of a dangling chandelier that is the centerpiece of Roy’s music room. This chandelier would represent the spark in Roy’s life as he starts off as this revered man to a man desperate to regain an air of respectability in these modern times. The music performances would often serve as key parts of where Roy is headed in his life as he watches these performances unaware of what will follow.

The direction allows the camera to capture everything that is happening in these music scenes such as the last one where follows the dancer with a few camera movements while remaining still to her dancing. Even as he gets these rhythmic reaction shots from those watching while Ray ponders what are the reaction of the audience as they see this performance. The direction is also entrancing in its opening scene where it has Roy staring at the land from his roof as he is lost in his despair. These compositions along with the wide depth of field of the Indian landscape is definitely enchanting to watch as Ray creates a very solid and immensely rich film that explores a man’s trouble to adapt to changing worlds.

Cinematographer Subrata Mitra does an excellent job with the black-and-white photography that captures the wonderful Indian landscape for its exteriors to stylish interior shots for the music room that includes scenes when the candles are lit up and dimmed. Editor Dulal Dutta does a fantastic job with the editing by creating some rhythmic cuts to some of the reaction that occurs in the musical performances while utilizing dissolves for transitions or as montages when Ananta makes preparation for the party. Art director Bansai Chandragupta does a brilliant job with the set pieces created such as Roy’s bedroom and home to the amazing look of the music room filled with rugs, paintings, candles, and the chandelier that is in the middle of the room.

The sound work of Durgadas Mitra is pretty good for the intimacy of the interiors including the music room in the performance scenes as well as some of the exteriors at the land that Roy owns. The film’s music score by Ustad Vilyat Khan is superb as it includes a chilling opening theme filled with eerie sitar flourishes and drones while the rest of the music is a wonderful mix plaintive Indian-inspired pieces to more intense music cuts that is played during the music room concert scenes as it’s a true highlight of the film.

The cast is incredible for the ensemble that is created as it includes small roles from Begum Akhtar and Ustad Waheed Khan as two singers from different musical performances as well as Roshan Kumari as the dancer for the final musical performance of the film. Other notable small roles include Pinaki Sen Gupta as Roy’s son Khoka and Padma Devi as Roy’s concerned wife Mahamaya. Tulsi Lahari is very good as Roy’s more grounded and worrisome steward Taraprasanna while Kali Sarkar is excellent as Roy’s more loyal and resourceful servant Ananta. Gangapada Bose is terrific as the gracious but smug Mahim Gupta who wants to gain respect from Roy but also wants more than that once he becomes successful putting him at odds with people in Roy’s land.

Finally, there’s Chhabi Biswas in a remarkable performance as Biswambhar Roy. Biswas’ performance is a delight to watch from the way he feels revered for putting on such lavish concerts to the humility he endures when he faces the changing world. It’s a truly entrancing performance for the famed Indian actor as he makes a character that is simply unforgettable for what he endures.

The 2011 2-disc Region 1 DVD from the Criterion Collection presents the film in a new high-definition digital restoration as part of a series of restoration for the films of Satyajit Ray. Presented in its 1:33:1 full-frame theatrical aspect ratio with Dolby Digital Mono. The film is given a presentation that allows the film to be seen in a new light after many years of not being shown in proper form while there are a few scratches and such due to the film stock that was used when Ray made the film back in 1958.

The first disc includes the film plus a few special features related to the film and Satyajit Ray. The first is an 18-minute interview with biographer Andrew Robinson entitled For the Love of Music about Ray and The Music Room. Robinson discusses Ray’s career at that time as well the motivations for making The Music Room. Robinson also discusses Ray’s gift for using music in film as well as his diverse taste that included Western classical music. Robinson points out about Ray’s mastery in observing characters while suggest that this film is a great introduction to Ray’s work.

The second interview is with noted Indian filmmaker Mira Nair. The 16-minute interview has Nair discussing Ray and the film where she revealed his influence towards her work. Notably as she revealed about Ray’s lack of popularity in India when he made those films. Nair discusses some of the visual moments of the film including the way the camera moved at the music room to see what the audience is seeing from behind. Nair also reveals her friendship with Ray in the 80s as he was her mentor and championed her first feature film Salaam Bombay! in India.

The 11-minute excerpt of a 1981 French TV program called L’invite de FR3 that features a roundtable discussion with Satyajit Ray, film director Claude Sautet, and film critic Michel Clement which is hosted by Dominique Reznikoff just before the French theatrical premiere of The Music Room in France. Sautet and Clement discussed their love for Ray’s films, including The Music Room as they asked a few questions to Ray about music and his popularity outside of India. Ray reveals his decision to make his own music for his films later on while admitting that he is baffled by his popularity outside of India.

The second disc of the DVD includes a 131-minute documentary by Shyam Benegal about Satyajit Ray made in 1984. The film is essentially a profile of Ray as he discusses his background and film career while making Ghare Baire (The Home and the World). Ray reveals about his love for films growing up while revealing what was wrong with Indian cinema in the early 50s. Throughout the film, clips of Ray’s movies are shown as Ray muses on his technique as well as how it evolved including his approach to music in film. It is a very insightful documentary that really gives a crash course of sorts on the films of Ray while learning about the man himself in his own words.

The DVD also includes a booklet that features two essays, an interview with Satyajit Ray, and a brief text about the restoration of the film. The first essay entitled Distant Music is by film historian Philip Kemp. Kemp discusses the impact of Ray in the international film scene as well as the importance of The Music Room in his career. Kemp talks about the film and its themes as well as the character of Biswambhar Roy. It’s a very illuminating essay that explores the film’s importance and why it wasn’t initially well-received in its native India due to the fact that it was so different from everything else in Indian cinema at the time.

The 1963 essay Winding Route to a Music Room is a piece written by Satyajit Ray about the film as it’s a short piece where Ray briefly discusses about the film’s production and inspiration for the film. The interview text by Andrew Robinson is a 1986 interview with Ray on the music of The Music Room. Ray talks about his collaboration with the film’s music composer Ustad Vilyat Khan as well as their approach to the music as a plot device for the film. The final piece of text in the booklet is a brief piece about the Satyajit Ray Preservation Project and the restoration of The Music Room that began in 1992. It’s a brief piece about a continuing project that is to display all of Ray’s work to the public and in a presentation deserving of Ray’s stature.

Jalsaghar is a rich and marvelous film from Satyajit Ray that features an incredible performance from Chhabi Biswas. While the film is often considered to be one of Ray’s greatest films as well as a great introduction to his work. It is a film that has a very universal story that audiences can relate to while be entranced into a world that isn’t the India that most people seem to know. In the end, Jalsaghar is breathtaking and ravishing film from Satyajit Ray.

Satyajit Ray Films: Pather Panchali - Aparajito - (Parash Pathar) - The World of Apu - Devi - (Teen Kanya) - (Rabindranath Tagore) - (Kanchenjungha) - (Abhijan) - The Big City - Charulata - (Two) - (Kapurush) - (Mahapurush) - Nayak - (Chiriyakhana) - (Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne) - (Aranyer Din Ratri) - (Pratidwandi) - (Sikkim) - (Seemabaddha) - (The Inner Eye) - (Ashani Sanket) - (Sonar Kella) - (Jana Aranya) - (Bala) - (Shatranj Ke Khilari) - (Joi Baba Felunath) - (Hirak Rajar Deshe) - (Pikoo) - (Sadgati) - (Ghare Baire) - (Sukumar Ray) - (Ganashatru) - (Shakha Proshakha) - (Agantuk)

© thevoid99 2012


David said...

That is a very detailed and professional review of the great CC release,Steve,well done.

This is my first Ray film,and I list it as my top 15 cc watched in 2011.I always treat this film as the Indian version of The Leopard,Ray's attentions to details impressed me a lot.I'm dying to see his APU trilogy goes to CC in the near future.

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. This is also my first Ray film. I'm eagerly anticipated to see what the Criterion Collection will release. The one I want to see the most, aside from the Apu Trilogy, is Charulata. Largely because of the music as its theme is stuck in my head ever since I've heard it on The Darjeeling Limited.