The Music Room Review
written by Souranath Banerjee
My Ratings: 4.9/5.
The original negative of the 1958 classic film Jalsaghar (The Music Room) was destroyed in a fire. Coincidentally the film was also about destruction!
A tragic drama, Jalsaghar is a brutal tale of a man’s struggle against time; his desperate attempt to cease the inevitable degradation, a futile battle against the humiliation of an inescapable extinction.
Huzur Biswambhar Roy (Chhabi Biswas).
A feudal landlord with a remarkably fine taste in classical music and an illusion of misguided grandeur.
Set in the pre-independence era, Huzur Biswambhar Roy is the perfect portrait of an affluent egoistic zaminder from Bengal who is too shortsighted to see the decline of his own zamindari.
Huge family portraits hung from the walls of his palatial ancestral home. Accompanied by his loving wife Mahamaya (Padmadevi) and his adorable young son Bireswar aka Khoka (Pinaki Sengupta), served by the manager of the estate (Tulsi Lahiri) and his loyal servant (Kali Sarkar) among many others and entertained by the performances of the best classical musicians of that time in his own music room (jalsaghar) – Huzur Biswambhar Roy was habituated to such blissful life of royal luxury.
He even owned a horse named ‘Tufan’ and an elephant named ‘Moti’!
A pompous man too engrossed in his passion/addiction for music, too drunk in his own pride to notice that his so-called aristocracy and traditional authority is crumbing down to pieces.
With his insatiable urge of parading his supremacy over the new-age wealthy men like Mahim Ganguly (Gangapada Basu) Biswambhar Roy started draining all his family-wealth to arrange unique musical performances and extravagant family functions.
And then with the sudden tragic loss of his family Huzur is left alone – a grief-stricken aging man whose royalty seems to be fading away along with his wealth.
But does that mean he has also lost his zeal for music? His drive to show off his peerage by arranging yet another musical event in his favorite jalsaghar – may be for one last time!
‘To you my noble ancestors – to you!’ and Huzur Biswambhar Roy raises his wine glass as a toast to the portraits of his ancestors.
Chhabi Biswas brilliantly portrays the degradation of Huzur Biswambhar Roy’s character. He manages to capture the insanity that lurks in the shadowy corners of that once opulent ancestral house, the character’s frantic struggle to resist the changes of time, his disturbing denial of accepting the reality.
Huzur’s pet elephant ‘Moti’ (the ancient way of transport) is cleverly compared to Mahim Ganguly’s loud-honking car in one single shot; even the glowing candles at the Zaminder’s palace become a direct contrast to the monotonous sound of the electric generator from neighbour Mahim Ganguly’s place – Satyajit Ray perfectly establishes these conflicts between the old and the new without the need of many dialogues!
With the slow yet engaging narration Ray masterfully captures the mood of that period. He manages to control his audience in a subconscious level; it feels like the film seeps in and creates it’s own hypnotic spell. (More like the mild flavor of ‘muchkundo phul-er papdi’ in Huzur’s favorite sherbet).
The shooting was done at Nimtita Raajbari, in Nimtita village, 10 kms from Murshidabad.
In Jalsaghar the isolated palace becomes a symbol of Huzur’s loneliness.
The huge mirrors, the life size human paintings, the swinging chandeliers, the trapped insect in the wine glass, the crawling spider on Huzur’s portrait – master director Satyajit Ray with these amazing visuals managed to evoke a certain sense of danger and uneasiness throughout the film.
Special credit goes to Bansi Chandragupta for his brilliant art direction and production designing in the film.
Among many famous shots in the film – the one with the reflection of the bright chandelier on Biswambhar Roy’s wine glass can be also interpreted as the fading reflection (remembrance) of his good times, his lost days of happiness, glory and wealth.
The film has some of the best Hindustani classical musicians performing. On-screen performances by legends like Begum Akhtar, a duet by Roshan Kumari (dancing) and Ustad Waheed Khan (singing) and famous Tansen’s ‘Miya ki malhar’ performed by Salamat Ali Khan.
Satyajit Ray’s style of introducing Indian classical music to such an extent challenged the general norm of songs and dance sequences in Indian films of that time.
For me Jalsaghar is primarily a psychological drama where Huzur Biswambhar Roy actually fights a battle with himself (his Ego to be more specific); he refuses to open his eyes to the evolving world around him.
Jalsaghar when released though didn’t work at the Indian box-office but received both critical and financial success in Europe and US and helped Ray earn huge international reputation. According to many Critics Jalsaghar is his best film.
Watch it in a relaxed mind (if you already haven’t) … such films are rare to find.
Additional read: The Music Room: Distant Music by Philip Kemp.
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