The One about Satyajit Ray’s “The Music Room”

Poetic, visually mesmerizing and I would expect nothing less from one of the greatest auteurs of all time.

Satyajit Ray. The Indian Bengali filmmaker was known for his non-traditional Indian films. Having directed 37 films in his lifetime, many which won multiple awards internationally and his contribution to cinema has earned him an Academy Honorary Award in 1991, his films are beloved by many and many have hoped to see his films receive the Blu-ray treatment in the U.S.

And who best than the Criterion Collection who will be releasing Ray’s fourth feature film titled “Jalsaghar” (The Music Room) on Blu-ray and DVD.

“The Music room” is a film adaptation of Tarashankar Banerjee’s short story but instead of creating an exact adaptation, Satyajit Ray would give his own spin to the film, making several changes but also creating a non-traditional film that would have music like most Indian films, but rather the music being an intermission, the music would be integrated as part of the original screenplay and featuring popular Indian music talent of the time: Begum Akhtar, Roshan Kumari, Ustad Waheed Khan and Bismillah Khan.

Satyajit Ray may be known for the “Apu Trilogy”, “The Chess Players”, “The Visitor” to name a few but similar to many auteurs, to study and watch a filmmaker’s oeuvre, you notice a change in style overtime.

With Ray, what was intriguing about this filmmaker is his goal to outdo himself from the previous films, to not have his films fit in a traditional sense of filmmaking but with hopes that his countrymen would enjoy the film, as well as people abroad. But for Ray, films that he expected to do well in his country would be popular internationally, while films he thought would do well internationally would be popular more in his country.

Suffice to say, his films often achieved the opposite of what he was expecting but nevertheless, nearly two decades after his passing, many are discovering Satyajit Ray’s films and many are hoping companies would bring them to the US.

“The Music Room” to me, if I had to describe the film, it was more poetic in the sense that elements of what was shot, had meaning. Satyajit Ray has talked about how Jean Renoir influenced him and Renoir was important to the precursor of Nouvelle Vague but his efficacy in using the elements in a room or outdoors to enhance the visual structure of the film. There is meaning behind the environment of “The Music Room” as it shows us the past and present of a zamnidar who has had a strong sense of pride but also a man who is incapable of leaving that pride, despite losing nearly everything in his life.

I have heard that “The Music Room” is different from the original short story that the film was adapted from but Satyajit Ray was able to accomplish a lot with this loose adaptation. For one, utilizing the character and showing us how he reacts to loss, sadness and rivalry. But also, possibly an audacious move on the filmmaker’s part to include classical Indian music but incorporate it as part of the storyline.

In India, the film did well for seven weeks but because it was non-traditional and much different than what Indians were used to in cinema, “The Music Room” was no popular in Ray’s country but found a big following internationally. Needless to say, the film was ahead of its time.

And as the storyline captures your attention as you see the character of Biswambhlar Roy get lost in his own pride, we see how music plays an important part in the film. Classical Indian music playing while we watch the characters are they react to the performances. And the performance is actually breathtaking, especially the final dance as we see the woman dancing and seeing how the men react to the dancing, it was a wonderful scene. But as mentioned, it was the scenes that featured traditional India and modern India that I found quite interesting.

In one shot, we see Roy’s wife and son riding by horse and a carriage held by servants, in a later shot, we see Roy’s elephant grazing but then seeing that natural setting disrupted by Ganguli’s car as it drives through the pathway kicking up dirt all around.

But then there are shots where we know that darker things will be coming. From the dead insect swirling in Roy’s drink, to the black spider crawling around his own painting. Once again, beautiful shots and a film that is well-composed, brilliantly acted by Chhabi Biswas.

As for this Criterion Collection Blu-ray release, it’s a fantastic release. It’s one thing to get the film, but to get the 1984 feature documentary plus other special features included, it’s really enough for me to say that this is one of my favorite Criterion Collection releases on Blu-ray. An outstanding tribute to one of the finest filmmakers in the world!

I may seem biased as an ardent fan of Satyajit Ray’s films but “The Music Room” is a wonderful, early Satyajit Ray film and as I’m confident we will be seeing Ray’s masterpiece, the Apu Trilogy, sooner than later (knock on wood) and more Satyajit Ray films on Blu-ray, this is an excellent release to learn about Ray’s work.

The 1984 feature documentary by Shyam Benegal is a wonderful tribute to the filmmaker and at over 2 hours, it’s an excellent special feature to accompany this release. In the past, I would have bought this documentary alone just to learn more about Ray and his passion for cinema but also to see him work behind-the-scenes. But the fact that it’s included with “The Music Room”, for me, that is wonderful!

It’s important to remind everyone when watching “The Music Room” is that Satyajit Ray didn’t have a lot of money to make this film. But he made the film with what he had. Some may have comparisons to King Lear but while the film is indeed a study of pride and carried to the most extreme, the film is extraordinary.