4 August 2017

THE CRITERION COLLECTION PRESENTS: THE MUSIC ROOM. (1958) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.




THE MUSIC ROOM (JALSAGHAR). (1958) BASED ON THE SHORT STORY OF THE SAME NAME BY TARASHANKAR BANDOPADHYAY.
DIRECTED, PRODUCED AND SCREENPLAY WRITTEN BY SATYAJIT RAY.
STARRING CHHABI BISWAS.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

'Overpowering... A double-edged study in the refinement and absurdity of aristocracy.'
Nick Pinkerton, The Village Voice.
'One of Ray's most magnificently visual films... Superb camera work... Ravishing score.'
Derek Malcolm, The Guardian.
'His most evocative film.'
Roger Ebert.

This is an exquisite film from start to finish. I don't think I've ever seen anything so visually gorgeous. I was actually gutted when it ended. Made by India's most famous director, it's won a ton of awards and was one of the first Indian/Bengali films to feature the country's indigenous music, not just as background or as an aside, but as an end in itself. The film is about the music, as the name suggests.

It's set in 1920s India in a fabulous old crumbling palace that used to belong to Upendra Narayan, the nobleman on whom Tarashankar Bandopadhyay based his short story. The film in turn was based on his story. That makes the magnificent old palace perfect in every possible way for the film.

Our hero is a chap called Biswambhar Roy. He's a once-rich land-owner whose land and formerly decadent, opulent lifestyle has fallen into decay and disrepair. The sea has eroded a lot of his physical land away and the passage of time and poor management have eroded his finances.

A handsome, well-built man, played by one of India's biggest heart-throb actors, Biswambhar Roy (we might just call him Roy from now on, I'll be here all day if I have to give him his proper title every time!) has always been obsessed by music. To the detriment of his work and estate management, I might add.

His bossy wife despairs of him. He lavishes all the money they have on their titular Music Room, a huge and impressive chamber in which concerts featuring genuine Indian musicians, singers and dancers are held regularly. 

The music in the film is fantastic. It's not done by actors pretending to be musicians, the musicians are all the real deal. Hopefully they got some exposure for themselves when the film turned out to be a big draw at the box-office!

The scenes featuring entertainments in the Music Room are some of the best in the film. Although a female singer or dancer may entertain the lads, no women loll on the fat heavily embroidered cushions and expensive rugs with the local noblemen, enjoying a few tunes while huffing periodically on their hookah pipes or whatever those things are called.

Only men may avail of the exotic treats, delights and pleasures of the Music Room, the room with the magnificent twinkly chandelier, the most cared-for room in the whole of the palace. Gold coins are given to the entertainers, sometimes even little velvet bags of gold coins, and it's the host's prerogative to distribute his own largesse first, before any of his guests.

Anyway, one not-so-fine day, a terrible family tragedy sees Roy shutting up and locking his beloved Music Room. Music no longer brings him any pleasure. Nothing makes him happy any more. He sits in his chair, attended by his loyal old servant Ananta, and grows old and lethargic. I don't know what he's huffing out of that pipe thing that never leaves his side, but whatever it is it sure doesn't make him want to get up off his arse and dance about the place...!

Then, one day, he finds himself roused out of his apathy by the Nouveau Riche upstart next door, an upstart who dares to come round to Roy's place and invite Roy, of all people, to a music celebration he's planning to hold in his own Music Room, if you please...!

Nothing stirs a man to action more than a sense of jealous rivalry with a younger man. The upstart's actions have the effect of a bucket of icy-cold water being tipped right over Roy's head. Roy rouses himself from his grief-induced stupor, much to Ananta's delight, and orders the lock taken off the Music Room door. The Music Room will once more pulsate and vibrate to the Sound of, well, Music. And the palace will come to glorious life again...

This absolutely stunning film, which features several adorable Indian elephants, is filled with an overwhelming sadness for the collapse of Roy's world, the decadent world of the zamindar or rich-landlord system, which is being gradually eaten away by the Indian government. The modern age of electricity too is being ushered in and the old-fashioned method of doing things is simultaneously on the way out.

It's hard not to feel sorry for Roy, even though the chances are that, in his heyday, he lived in opulence and unbridled luxury while his subjects existed in poverty. Roy's day is dying. Roy himself probably won't last much longer. But he might just have one last hurrah...

THE MUSIC ROOM, complete with a ton of brilliant extra features, including a great documentary about Satyajit Ray's career, is available to buy from THE CRITERION COLLECTION from 7th August 2017.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:


http://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com







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