The Music Room aka Jalsaghar (Satiyajit Ray, 1958)
Jalsaghar depicts the end days of a decadant zamindar or landlord (Chhabi Biswas) in Bengal, and his efforts to uphold his family prestige even when faced with economic adversity.
Nowadays, Indian Cinema has been linked with Bollywood pictures but one must get back to the 1950’s to discover the Bengal identity of master director Satiyajit Ray and his masterful filmography. Ray’s name is also referenced with his Apu trilogy often cited has his masterpieces, but his fourth film, The Music Room might be his most hypnotic masterpiece of passion and dedication. When one gets into this film he is struck by the complete immersion into this world and reality. With music as a character that seduces and envelops the zamindar Roy to a point where he doesn’t care for his devastated crops and the eventual economic disaster his approaching just to keep his music room filled with musicians, dancers, and guests.
The evolution of this character is told by moods, music, and Ray’s distinctive mise en scène. His camera movements and framing can easily recall the mastery of Jean Renoir in his early masterpieces but also with a genuine almost documentary eye. Ray gets us into his story with the blink of an eye. This is, in fact, pure cinema of editing and simple framing. There’s a patience in this film and the way it is told that flows naturally just like the emotions and the evolution of the character. I would not be surprised to learn that Martin Scorsese was highly influenced by the work of Satiyajit Ray. The character study of the fall of a rich man who knows he is destined to crash and knows it but still gets to a point of no return in his megalomania.
The Music Room is without a doubt one of the most important films of all time and this critic’s favorite film by the legendary filmmaker Satiyajit Ray. It also showcases the unique music and performances by Indian artists like the musicians and dancers that are integral parts of the movie and not just in support or as transitions. They serve as narrative elements in this hypnotic tale. It is often written that The Music Room gets on the nerves of its viewer because of those performances, but the dramatic arc of Ray’s movie wouldn’t be as successful if it those elements were left out. Music lovers will agree on the fact that if you are passionate about a sound or a band you can easily get into it. Roy’s passion and pride for his blood, his ancestors, and his ego centered persona led him to his eventual fall. Never before we could have witnessed a look like his when he is on his terrace gazing at nothing. The Music Room is a great moment of cinema.