Old 04-03-2009, 03:46 PM
Satyajit Ray's The Music Room

The Music Room (1958)

A large mirror, several paintings of family members, and an enormous chandelier adorn the room where most of the important scenes of Satyajit Ray's "The Music Room" take place. This is where many concerts are held, but it is also where one man's desire, passion, and heartbreak combine to destroy him.

Huzur Biswambhar Roy (Chhabi Biswas) is having financial problems with much of his land being destroyed by flooding. On top of that, he has a passion for music and likes to hold elaborate concerts in his music room for his friends. When a neighbor of his, Mahim Ganguly (Gangapada Basu), tells him that he will be holding a party for the Bengali New Year, Roy tells him that he too will be holding a party.

The problem is that this is not true, but he immediately gets things rolling to make it true. He recalls his wife, Mahamaya (Padmadevi), and son, Khoka (Pinaki Sengupta), from their vacation so that they too will attend. When they do not arrive on time, Roy becomes very worried. During the concert, he gets the devastating news that they have both been killed in a storm at sea. This news changes his life and love of music forever.

Satyajit Ray is a master filmmaker who has an amazing ability to make us care about his characters. They tend to be people with the simplest of desires. Take his "Apu Trilogy" for instance. Apu's family's main desires are for survival and for their family to stay together. In "The Music Room," Roy's passion is for music; he even has a whole room dedicated to it. It's not hard for any of us to relate to Roy, though we probably wouldn't go to the extremes that he does.

Another thing that Ray is so good at is his ability to make us delve right into the culture of his films. From the look of his films, he wasn't working with much of a budget, but he still manages to make everything look extremely detailed, from the costumes to the amazing sets. Whether you like the music presented during the concerts or not, it is still an excellent example of the culture.

About halfway through the film, I was reminded of Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange," whose main character, Alex, happens to get conditioned against one of his favorite pieces of music, Beethoven's 9th, but ends up being cured by the end. A similar thing happens here, though through very different circumstances, where Roy decides to try having a concert again after hearing his neighbor give one of his own.

There is an extraordinary scene that occurs after he makes this decision. He asks his servants to unlock the music room which he had ordered closed after his wife and son's death. He goes inside and looks over the paintings, stares into the mirror, and reminisces about the concerts that have been held there. After all this, he decides to hire the dancer that had been at his neighbor's concert, despite the fact that she is very expensive, and he barely has any money left.

The other extraordinary scenes are the concerts themselves. These are the scenes when Roy seems the most content, where his money problems don't even seem to matter. The final concert in particular is quite marvelous. The dance begins in a shot that felt like it was unbroken for at least a good five minutes, but does eventually break to show us Roy's transfixed reaction.

This scene could really be seen as his last hurrah. He gives his last bit of money to the dancer in an effort to keep his prestige intact (which has actually been his excuse for giving these expensive concerts all along). The final scenes are heartbreaking as we realize was has to happen. He is an old man simply trying to reclaim his past, which is impossible in this case. It is tragic that an obsession with an art form that can be so beautiful can also destroy someone's life.

In the end, as we watch the candles burn out in the music room, we too remember the happier times that Roy had in that room. They are the most joyous scenes of the film, and we never see him happier than when he is there listening to music. But when the candles go out, the music is over, for good. 3.5/4 stars.
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