My introduction to Satyajit Ray: “The Music Room”

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Satyajit Ray (1921-1992) is regarded not just as the greatest Indian filmmaker, but as one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century. You can read his biography on Wikipedia, but this quote gives a sense of his reputation:

Never having seen a Satyajit Ray film is like never having seen the sun or the moon.

— Akira Kurosawa, “one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema”

After reading a lot about him and hearing about his films, I decided to experience him for myself by watching his 1958 film, Jalsaghar (“The Music Room”). I partly chose this as my first Ray film because it’s known as “a showcase for some of India’s most popular [classical] musicians of the day,” and it indeed lives up to its title. In fact, the sitarist Ustad Vilayat Khan, whom I wrote about in my first blog post, composed the film’s soundtrack.

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In Bengali, the upper text says “Music composed by Ustad Vilayat Khan”

The Music Room was the first film to feature Indian classical music, and it starred shehnai player Ustad Bismillah Khan, Hindustani singer Begum Akhtar, surbahar player Ustad Wahid Khan, and the Kathak dancer Roshan Kumari.

However, what makes the film even more distinctive is that it portrays the fall of the aristocracy of feudal Indian society: the landlords, called zamindars. I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, but it depicts “the crumbling opulence of the world of a fallen aristocrat (the beloved actor Chhabi Biswas) desperately clinging to a fading way of life. His greatest joy is the music room in which he has hosted lavish concerts over the years–now a shadow of its former self. An incandescent depiction of the clash between tradition and modernity…”

I thought The Music Room was beautifully shot and directed, and the plot was interesting enough to hold my attention throughout the film. I have since watched another Satyajit Ray film, the first installment of his Apu Trilogy: Pather Panchali. I thought Pather Panchali had some touching moments, but for the most part it was excruciatingly slow and I almost fell asleep partway through the film (though, I was tired when I began watching it…). Hopefully I’ll be able to watch a couple more of his films this winter break!


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