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The Music Room
BLU-RAY disk
07.25.2011 By: Mathew Plale
The Music Room order
Director:
Satyajit Ray

Actors:
Chhabi Biswas
Gangapada Bose
Padma Devi

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
A wealthy landlord (Biswas) reflects on the lavish parties he once threw and plans to host a grand farewell before his funds run out.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
He sits alone on his roof, his hair grayed and a cane by his chair. He removes the hookah pipe from his mouth and asks his servant, “What month is it?”

Flash back to many years earlier and the elegant life the man, Biswambhar Roy (Chhabi Biswas), used to live. Roy hosts lavish parties, held in his music room, on a regular basis more or less to showcase his great wealth and impress his neighbor (Gangapada Bose). This proves to be his downfall, as one of his parties leads to the news that his wife and son have died in a boating accident.

Back to present day, the 1920s, and this sad old man. Are we being asked to pity Roy because he is guilty for his family’s tragic end? Or that all of his funds have run out? He seems to only care about one, and it’s the one that’s more difficult to sympathize with.

The music scenes and performances are, no surprise, the highlight of The Music Room, and the way Ray uses music (with a score by Ustad Vilayat Khan) both as a guide and a character is innovative. It is important in our lives to have music. It ties us to certain moments of our past, which is what makes one scene in particular stand out: the aged Roy enters his music room for the first time in years and his eyes marvel at the grand chandelier that served as the centerpiece to all of his parties.

Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s The Music Room (Jalsaghar), based on a short story by Tarasankar Banerji, was released between the second and third entries in his acclaimed Apu Trilogy (1955-‘59). Unlike with that trilogy, Ray seems unsure of what he wants to express. Is The Music Room more a showcase of the culture? Or more a look at how haunting loss can be? If the latter, then why should we care if the lead character’s biggest loss is his popularity and not his wife and child?
THE EXTRAS
For the Love of Music (17:36): In this interview, recorded in 2011, author Anjdrew Robinson (Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye) discusses the director, the making of The Music Room and more.

Mira Nair (15:44): Here, director Mira Nair, whose Monsoon Wedding was added to The Criterion Collection in 2009, shares her love for Ray and The Music Room.

French Roundtable (10:36): This excerpt from a 1981 episode of the French television series L’invité de FR3, hosted by Dominique Reznikoff, has Ray, film critic Michel Ciment and filmmaker Claude Sautet gather for a discussion about The Music Room, which was just getting its release in France.

Satyajit Ray (2:11:05): Shyam Benegal’s excellent feature-length documentary uses interviews with Ray as well as “footage from Ray’s third-second film, The Home and the World, family photographs and extensive clips from his movies” to paint an extensive and well-documented look at the famed director.

Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 36-page booklet featuring an essay titled “Distant Music” by critic Philip Kemp, a 1963 essay by Ray titled “Winding Route to a Music Room,” and a 1986 interview with Ray.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
The Criterion Collection have done the best possible job they could have with The Music Room, the first Satyajit Ray film in their catalog. The video has scratches throughout the film, but this is the fault of the film stock that Ray used, which "could deteriorate just as dramatically [as nitrate film stock], especially when stored in a warm, moist environment." Still, this is the best that The Music Room is likely ever going to look on home video, so that, along with the two-hour documentary and interviews, are reason enough for film aficionados to add it to their collection.
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