Cast & Crew
In India in 1920 wealthy landowner Bishambar Rai lives in a palace with his wife and son. Most of the family fortune has been spent on elaborate music festivals. Bishambar feels a strong disdain for his nouveau riche neighbor, Ganguli, who is introducing an unwelcome note of modernity to the area. When the time comes to hold a ceremony for his adolescent son, the landowner finds that his credit is exhausted; but the event is held anyway in the greatest splendor, financed by the sale of his wife's jewels. Later, when Ganguli invites him to his house-warming party, Bishambar curtly refuses and arranges another festivity of his own. Since his wife and son are away, he sends for them; but on their return trip, they both die when their boat capsizes during a thunderstorm. The tragedy shatters the old man, and he retreats from reality, living a hermit-like existence. After 4 years, he is roused from his apathy when he hears that Ganguli has built a music room and is planning an extravagant festival. Bishambar reopens his music room, scrapes together the rest of his money, and holds a lavish party. This final victory over his neighbor strains his mental balance; he orders his dead son's horse to be saddled and gallops away toward the river. From the palace steps, his two remaining servants watch as he is thrown from the horse; they arrive in time for him to die in their arms.
Ustad Waheed Khan
Ustad Vilayat Khan
R. R. Sinde
The Music Room
The opening of the film, from credits to flashback, draws the viewer so immediately into a world of listlessness, decay, and futility, that it's hard to imagine another film, perhaps Citizen Kane (1941), maybe Sunset Boulevard (1950), doing so precise a job at visualizing a once grand spirit now lost to time and neglect. The credits come first, a simple shot of an opulent chandelier, swaying gently in the middle of a black void as the camera pulls in ever closer. As the credits end, the camera looks upon an older man, clearly a powerful man, more slumped than seated, on the rooftop of a mansion that seems less a palace than a faded pencil drawing of a once grand estate. The camera focuses in on the face of Biswambhar Roy (Chhabi Biswas) and slowly pulls out. The lens focus is so narrow that even the chair back he sits against is slightly out of focus. His face less so, his fingers on the handle of an expensive cane in sharp relief. The past is faded and the present is sadly in full view. As a servant approaches and sets up the master's hooka, Biswambhar stares ahead blankly, dead to the world around him. As the servant walks away, Biswambhar asks him, "What month is this?" What month. Not what time or even what day, but what month. Biswambhar is now an apathetic spirit haunting his own life.
When Biswambhar hears music, he inquires of his servant its origin. Told it's from his neighbor, a money lender that Biswambhar looks down upon, he seems resigned to the fact that the dying caste system has placed him on the outs while businessmen are on their way in. His neighbor, Mahim Ganguly (Gangapada Basu), is celebrating the initiation of his son and Biswambhar begins to think back on the initiation of his own son. This sets in motion a series of flashbacks in which we learn how Biswambhar's world came apart and how he arrived at the unreality he now occupies.
It is the 1920's and the world of feudalism that once gave Biswambhar's ancestors power and wealth is now gone, leaving Biswambhar with an ever dwindling fortune and no promise of future income. His music room is the one thing that gives him pleasure and he uses whatever money he has left to hold concerts there. Three concerts make up the bulk of the film with each one seeing Biswambhar's world crumble ever more decisively into the desolate riverlands that surround his mansion. The ending is as crushing as it is inevitable. Biswambhar recognizes there is nothing left of his world but an image of power he presents in his music room, the room that swaying chandelier inhabits, and yet he won't acknowledge it.
The setting of The Music Room is as important to the film as the characters played by the actors. For the location of the decaying palace, Ray scouted and found an old palace in Nimtita in Bengal that perfectly captured what he was looking for. Surrounded by dried out river plains, it seems as isolated and remote as Xanadu and just as uninviting. The music was also an important aspect of the film. For his Apu films, the first of which was Pather Panchali, Ray used Ravi Shankar, but for The Music Room, he felt he needed a more traditional, classical approach. He chose Vilayat Khan who provides the film with the Indian music that underlines the emotions, fear, and nostalgia of its protagonist. Later, in interviews, Ray, who would later compose for his own films, said he would have made the music more melancholic, perhaps undercutting more precisely what was on the screen. Nonetheless, he was happy with the results, a score that works beautifully as an equal storyteller in the film.
Satyajit Ray was one of the greatest filmmakers in the world at a time when the cinema was seeing an explosion of new movements from Italy to France to Japan to Czechoslovakia. Ray represented India for most but for the world film community, his works represented all of humanity. To this day, they are some of the greatest works of art to deal with the desolation of the soul and the rejuvenation of the spirit. The Music Room is one of his best.
Director: Satyajit Ray
Writer: Satyajit Ray, Santi P. Choudhury
Producer: Satyajit Ray
Music: Ustad Vilayat Khan, Robin Majumdar
Cinematographer: Subrata Mitra
Film Editor: Dulal Dutta
Production Designer: Bansi Chandragupta
Art Director: Bansi Chandragupta
Cast: Chhabi Biswas (Huzur Biswambhar Roy), Sardar Akhtar (Singer), Gangapada Basu (Mahim Ganguly), Bismillah Khan (Musician), Salamat Ali Khan (Khyal singer), Waheed Khan (Ustad Ujir Khan), Roshan Kumari (Krishna Bai, dancer), Tulsi Lahiri (Manager of Roy's Estate), Padma Devi (Mahamaya, Roy's wife), Kali Sarkar (Roy's Servant), Pinaki Sengupta (Khoka, Roy's Son)
By Greg Ferrara
The Music Room
The Music Room - Satyajit Ray's THE MUSIC ROOM - The Criterion Collection Edition on DVD & Blu-Ray
Chhabi Biswas, a popular and respected actor of his day, plays Biswambhar Roy, once a powerful feudal lord, or zamindar, now a threadbare remnant of the old world. The opening scenes present him alone in his crumbling palace, sucking on his hookah like a pacifier, looking out over the ruins of his one mighty lands as the modern world passes him by. The sounds of a concert from a neighbor's estate sends him back to a time when his wife and son lived and he spent lavishly on recitals and celebrations. His great love is music and he considers himself a connoisseur and a patron of the arts, indulging in his hobby to the neglect of his fortune and his lands, which are slowly being swallowed up by the river. It's also a matter of social currency and vanity. To be a lover of music is not enough. Roy must be seen to be a true connoisseur with a public show of patronage and a subtle mastery of the art of presenting a master artist in his private music room.
As presented by Ray and Biswas, Roy is vain and impotent, a remnant of a culture of refinement and respect more concerned with social stature and aesthetic pleasure than such grubby concerns as business or work, and his vanity and ego are ultimately the cause of his fall into isolation and irrelevance. Yet the film has is a grudging affection for Roy, who though foolish is a loving husband and father, and his loss is offered as both punishment for his narcissism and tragic comeuppance for a man too invested in his social superiority to learn from it. He's also a man invested in old-world signs and portents--a cricket drowning in a glass of wine, a spider crawling across his portrait--which director Ray uses for dramatic effect and metaphor. When the candles of Roy's chandelier slowly go out at the end of the long night, he watches in panic as if the stars are all flickering out. It is a beautiful metaphor, evocative and rich with multiple meanings: Roy sees it as a sign of his mortality and impending death while the director uses it as an illustration of the man's superstitions, a metaphor for the end of his influence and a signal that his time is at an end, as well as the simple measure of time: the night is over and the dawn is breaking.
In contrast to the arrogant grace of Roy is the merchant Ganguly (Gangapada Basu), the son of a village moneylender who has become a successful businessman. This garish nouveau riche character, a music lover himself, gracelessly flaunts his fortune while courting the approval of Roy, still the symbolic elder of the social world. When Ganguly buys a local manor and launches his own concerts and celebrations, Roy takes it as a challenge to his status and to his very world. Next to the lone champion horse and an elephant grazing in the fields, all that's left of Roy's once mighty stable of status symbols, Ganguly has a motorcar and a generator bringing electricity his home (the chugging of the motor intrudes upon the serenity of Roy's evenings on his terrace). The clownish Ganguly is a powerful man with a crude manner that affronts Roy's sense of dignity. Ray clearly feels some sympathy for his threadbare aristocrat's sense of propriety even as he condemns the emptiness of his achievement. The music room becomes a battlefield for Roy's final display of social superiority, a perfectly staged show of old-world manners and rituals that come at such a cost as to make it meaningless.
Though music played a central role in his first films, which were memorably scored by Ravi Shankar, The Music Room was Ray's first film to incorporate music and dance into the narrative of his films. In a way it is his response to the conventions of popular Indian cinema, which used song and dance numbers as interludes and spectacle. The three performances showcased here are recitals presented by Roy in his lavish music room, and are both part of the drama and apart from it, a preservation of the classical arts rather than a piece of pop entertainment, and a calculated show of Roy's rarified taste and refinement. Though we have seen him practicing the sitar and listening to music on his own, his smile and dreamy nods of appreciation appear to be more of a show for his audience than a spontaneous response to the music. In these performances, Roy's entrance and behavior is very much a part of the program.
Criterion presents the DVD and Blu-ray debut The Music Room, mastered from the 1995 restoration. Before the restoration project was begun, there had been no effort to properly preserve Ray's early work and this restoration, based on a 35mm fine-grain print made directly from the original negative, exhibits some scratches and scuffing at the reel ends but is otherwise in fine shape, with rich gradations of black and white and sharp imagery. The restored soundtrack has varying levels of hiss and noise, likely a remnant of the original production sound.
Shyam Bengal's 1984 feature-length documentary Satyajit Ray, a generous career retrospective highlighted by lengthy interview sequences with Ray, film clips and footage of Ray on the set of The Home and The World, is the highlight of the supplements gathered for this release. It is over two hours long and in English, Bengali and Hindi with English subtitles. Ray (who died in 1993) is also featured in a ten-minute 1981 roundtable discussion from French television with director Claude Sautet and film critic Michel Ciment (in French with English subtitles). Recorded specifically for this release are new video interviews with Ray biographer Andrew Robinson (running 17 minutes) and filmmaker Mira Nair (15 minutes). Also features a booklet with an original essay by critic Philip Kemp and reprints of a 1963 essay by Ray and a 1986 interview with the director about the film's music.
For more information about The Music Room, visit The Criterion Collection. To order The Music Room, go to TCM Shopping.
by Sean Axmaker
The Music Room - Satyajit Ray's THE MUSIC ROOM - The Criterion Collection Edition on DVD & Blu-Ray
Produced in India in 1958 and released there as Jalsaghar; running time: 100 min.
Released in United States 2010
Released in United States June 2010
Re-released in United States August 2, 1996
Re-released in United States December 27, 1995
Re-released in United States May 19, 1995
Shown at Los Angeles Film Festival (Film Foundation Screening Program) June 17-27, 2010.
Shown at San Francisco International Film Festival (World Cinema) April 22-May 6, 2010.
Released in United States 2010 (Shown at San Francisco International Film Festival (World Cinema) April 22-May 6, 2010.)
Re-released in United States May 19, 1995 (Lincoln Plaza Cinemas; New York City)
Released in United States June 2010 (Shown at Los Angeles Film Festival (Film Foundation Screening Program) June 17-27, 2010.)
Re-released in United States August 2, 1996 (Lincoln Plaza Cinemas; New York City)
Re-released in United States December 27, 1995 (Film Forum; New York City)