573 The Music Room

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dad1153
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Re: 573 The Music Room

#51 Post by dad1153 » Tue Jul 19, 2011 1:27 pm

MichaelB wrote:I watched the DVD last night (I can't play the Blu-ray), and it's probably worth warning people that anyone expecting the near-pristine picture that those framegrabs imply might be a little disappointed. As with all 1950s Ray transfers, there's still lots of damage, instability, some excessively contrasty shots, you name it - all of which is inherent in the original, notoriously poorly-preserved materials and which is therefore unavoidable. I also suspect that these problems will be amplified by the Blu-ray.

That said, it's a very significant improvement on all other Ray releases that I've seen (Mr Bongo's Company Limited is the only one I can think of that's anywhere near the same class), and I commend Criterion for not going too far with regard to the digital cleanup - it's clear that they've stopped before the point when it would have interfered with the integrity of the image, and they made the right decision.

I also absolutely accept that this is probably the best that Criterion, or indeed anyone, could have done with material like this - and I've certainly never seen the film looking this good before.
If any movie needed a before/after comparison is this one. And this one went through the Phoenix Finish process, can you imagine what the print looked like when the restoration started?

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Re: 573 The Music Room

#52 Post by manicsounds » Fri Aug 05, 2011 8:55 am

I'm already pretty convinced this is the release of the year for me. Probably should just stop buying any more discs in general from now on.... which is unlikely to happen, so nevermind.

Yeah, as others have said, expect a lot of nicks and scratches, like the "Stagecoach" disc, but contrast and detail is just superb, and there are some really amazing music scenes which thankfully the picture and sound quality is quite high during those places.

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Re: 573 The Music Room

#53 Post by zedz » Sun Sep 18, 2011 8:05 pm

In a year where so many of Criterion's releases have been of films already available, often in decent editions, this is surely their most important mainline release.

It was great to finally see this film, and I thought the transfer was absolutely stunning. Sure, you can see how damaged the print has become, but it really feels like you're seeing everything that was recoverable: superb detail and tonal range, and the flaws only make it all the more filmic. As the film went, it didn't enter me personal top tier of Ray films, but it was close enough.

The extras are a strong bunch. Mira Nair's interview makes for a good entry point to Ray's work, as she talks about her own first encounters and later explorations, and the other talking head piece offers more in-depth appreciation of this particular film. The French round table doesn't really add anything new (particularly if you've read the booklet), but at least it gives us Ray himself discussing the film.

The real jewel is Benegal's documentary, which is very rich indeed, combining an informal making-of for Home and the World with a long-form director interview and indulgent clip show. Ray's a thoughtful and urbane talker and has a warm relationship with Benegal. They tend to dwell on the earlier part of his career, with very little discussion of the post-Calcutta Trilogy films and some big gaps in the 60s, but that's appropriate for this release, I suppose. And I loved the generosity of the clips. The very long 'memory game' scene from Days and Nights in the Forest seems to be included in its entirety, and it makes me incredibly impatient to see that film again. It's one of the best things Ray ever did.

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The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#54 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Mar 02, 2015 6:29 am

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Re: The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#55 Post by ordinaryperson » Mon Mar 16, 2015 2:34 pm

I’ve seen “The Music Room” twice now. The first time I watched it I thought it was boring and confusing. The second time I watched it I liked it a lot more than when I first watched it. “The Music Room” follows Huzur Biswambhar Roy (played by Chhabi Biswas) who is a rich and lives in a palace with his wife and son. He is obsessed with his music room spending family jewels on performances in there. One day his family has to leave to visit a sick relative. On the way back his family is killed by a cyclone, making him close down his music room and he starts losing money and land. Finally one day he opens up the music room once again for one final performance.
The first time I watched this (and even the second time) I was confused by the editing in the beginning. The film starts after Roy’s family has died and Roy is invited to go to Ganguli’s house for a party for his son; then Roy has a flashback to his son’s party he held in the music room. There is no indication that there is a flashback and I started thinking it was in Ganguil’s palace. At the time Satyajit Ray wanted to make a money making film, so he decided to get a bunch of popular Indian artists at the time and have them be in small sections of the film. I liked the idea of putting the musicians into the film.I really liked this film despite the flaws in it, it is the only film by Satyajit Ray I have seen so far.

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Re: The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#56 Post by Drucker » Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:25 am

I admit that I, too, found the quick jump into a flashback sequence confusing the first time I watched this film. Mainly because of how quickly it happens. But my second time, watching it last night, I found the film beautiful, tragic, and even a bit sarcastic. The film treats its protagonist with an amount of respect it doesn't seem to think he deserves.

One of the things I was struck by early on last night was that the protagonist in The Music Room is unknowingly going right along with his fate. This stands out in stark contrast to the other Ray films I've seen. In Charulata there's the struggle and temptation involved with falling for the woman's cousin and being trapped in a daunting house. In The Big City there is a fight against social norms, a woman taking a job, and a couple trying to better themselves. And the whole of The Apu Trilogy is about elevating a family's standing in the world and improving their lot. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that in all of these films, our protagonists are in some way fighting against where nature or fate (possibly by way of contemporary norms) would have placed them.

The Music Room gives our protagonist every hint in the world about his doomed fate. Two separate musical performances feature lyrics warning of a coming storm. His servants love him, and his primary assistant seems to warn him about his money woes and encourage financial prudence that would allow him some sense of normalcy. These are of no matter to him. It's more important to our protagonist that he keep up appearances and honor the legacy of his forefathers before him by "watching over the land." Ray's biting critique of the dying aristocracy is poignant. Not even the death of his wife and child truly shake him out of his ways. In fact they bury him further into those ways. Now, there is some nobility to our protagonist. He claims, for example, that he let his constituents/citizens into his house during a flood. He makes sure that the landowner's son doesn't take advantage of them financially. But lest we think Ray wants us to think of him, at the end of the day, as a noble creature, the liner notes make clear this isn't the case. In an interview, Ray said his one regret with the music is that, while it was good, it treated his protagonist with too much dignity.

Now, Ray has no love lost for the new money displacing the fading aristocracy either. If anything, it seems he has more contempt for it. The landowner's son, in the final Music Room performance, sits in the front of the room, where our protagonist and his closest friends had sat. He calls our protagonist "grandpa" and disrespects him in his house. The contrast here actually reminds me a lot of The Magnificent Ambersons. The new money in this story is driving cars and hooking up their house to electricity. While the old aristocracy/money was petty and useless, the new money lacks the respect for tradition that, in some way, led them to have some dignity. The new money doesn't even have that. All the new money cares about is money, not the responsibility that such wealth should entail.

The tragedy of The Music Room is that our protagonist never seems to truly realize where he is in the world. Other films, which I reference above, feature characters recognizing their lot in life, and struggling within it, often trying to escape. Our protagonist here never really illustrates a knowledge of his own tragic situation, which is perhaps the most tragic thing of all.

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Re: The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#57 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:30 am

To some extent, Ray seems to be channeling Chekhov's Cherry Orchard in this film.

I love the music in this -- but I've heard bitter complaints from others who are not so enthralled by Indian music.

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Re: The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#58 Post by Drucker » Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:36 am

I found the music beautiful. I will say that I thought the last musical performance went on a bit long (I lost count of how many tracking close-ups he did to the main character, leaned-over, smoking his hookah), but for the most part I think it was fine.

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Re: The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#59 Post by chatterjees » Tue Mar 17, 2015 8:08 pm

The background score was one of the most important aspects of the film, in term of marketing when it was released. Having Vilayat Khan and his brother Imrat scoring a film was a big deal at that time. You have to keep in mind that Ravi Shankar was not that popular when Ray began his career.
Also, to the diehard followers of Indian Classical Music at that time, Sitar playing was broadly popularized by two schools. One was dominated by Ravi Shankar and was very commercial (I am not saying that it's bad, it's just something else), whereas the other school was dominated by Vilayat Khan or Nikhil Banerjee etc., who were stuck to the traditional style. I personally prefer the 2nd category.
The 2nd most important selling point of the film was presence of Chhabi Biswas.

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Re: The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#60 Post by chatterjees » Tue Mar 17, 2015 8:19 pm

Drucker wrote:The tragedy of The Music Room is that our protagonist never seems to truly realize where he is in the world. Other films, which I reference above, feature characters recognizing their lot in life, and struggling within it, often trying to escape. Our protagonist here never really illustrates a knowledge of his own tragic situation, which is perhaps the most tragic thing of all.
I think that our protagonist was fully aware of his situation or his ill fate, but his ego never let him act sensibly. He was not an idiot, he knew everything about his economic crisis. It was just his ego and eagerness to maintain the remnants of his social status, which drove him to the disaster. There are still some people in the Bengali culture, who act in such a way. I have seen some people who still behave like God, just because one of their forefathers used to be a zamindar.

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Re: The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#61 Post by Drucker » Tue Mar 17, 2015 8:24 pm

Perhaps, but the contrast I point out still exists if we take your point. Rather than fighting fate, he seems resigned to it. If it does bother him, he sure doesn't act that way.

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Re: The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#62 Post by swo17 » Tue Mar 17, 2015 8:57 pm

I think this is a pretty universally relatable concept--sometimes when you get used to a certain routine/way of life, even when outside forces remind you that there is something bigger out there, and that perhaps your routine could stand to change, actually doing so may be easier said than done. You only know how to do what you have always done, and so you keep doing it for as long as you can, pushing any feelings to the contrary aside as well as you can manage. And then when you can't do it anymore, you leap on the back of a beast and let nature take its course.

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Re: The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#63 Post by Sloper » Sun Mar 22, 2015 8:50 pm

ordinaryperson wrote:I’ve seen “The Music Room” twice now. The first time I watched it I thought it was boring and confusing. The second time I watched it I liked it a lot more... The first time I watched this (and even the second time) I was confused by the editing in the beginning.
Drucker wrote:I admit that I, too, found the quick jump into a flashback sequence confusing the first time I watched this film. Mainly because of how quickly it happens. But my second time, watching it last night, I found the film beautiful
Yes, it really rewards repeat viewings. The first time I saw it, although I just about got the point of the flashback (because Roy was noticeably more sprightly than he had been on the roof), I still found it hard to 'read' the significance of what I was seeing; I ended up stopping after the first half hour and re-watching it from the beginning. Ray can sometimes be a bit elliptical in his story-telling - although I do think that in this case there may be some intentional confusion in the opening segue. At the start of the flashback, you don't see the face of the horse-rider until he's climbing the stairs, but I think that's the moment when we're supposed to realise, with a shock, that this is the same character we saw in the prologue. Chhabi Biswas was a huge star at the time, so audiences would probably have been struck by how much younger he'd been made to look. (In one of the supplements, Mira Nair comments on how much make-up Biswas was wearing in the flashback scenes.) It’s important that we sense this contrast between the younger Roy and the decayed old man he becomes over the next four years.

Drucker, I think you summed up the ambiguities of the film's attitude towards Roy and Ganguli really well, although I do disagree on a couple of points. It seems to me that the other films you mentioned (some of them, at least - I need to re-watch them) are also about people who think they're making their own way in life, but who are in fact playing into the hands of fate all along. Without spoiling the Apu Trilogy for those who haven't seen it, it's not hard to see how Apu's parents and Apu himself (at various stages of his life) fit into this pattern - they are sometimes just as deluded about reality as the zamindar in The Music Room, and although those characters tend to receive more sympathy than Roy does, I do think this film is a little less harsh on its (anti-)hero than you suggest, or than Ray himself wanted it to be...
Drucker wrote:But lest we think Ray wants us to think of him, at the end of the day, as a noble creature, the liner notes make clear this isn't the case. In an interview, Ray said his one regret with the music is that, while it was good, it treated his protagonist with too much dignity.
And I'm so glad that Vilayat Khan gave Ray something to regret here. From what I know of Ray's films, he is at his worst when he gets preachy: the moment he starts spelling out the 'message' of the story, or telling us to think or feel a certain way about his characters, things immediately become clunky and stilted.

What makes this film so brilliant is its intense, immersive empathy for the main character. You’re completely right about the ways in which it critiques him as well, but that critique only carries emotional weight because we’ve been made to understand what is at stake here from the zamindar’s point of view, and because we feel his sense of terror and loss as his world slips away from him. If the film were any more detached than it is, it would have to be a full-blown satirical comedy. I know what you mean about the sarcastic tone, and there are certainly elements of satire here: the ending, I felt, compromised the sense of tragedy with the naff close-ups of Roy on the horse and the shot of the servants turning their heads as he rode across the plain; there are some more successful attempts at wry humour elsewhere in the film. On the whole, though, I think that empathy and tragedy predominate here. And the main character does ultimately seem quite ‘noble’ to me, in a complex way, in spite of his obvious follies. I’ll try and explain what I mean by that below.
chatterjees wrote:I think that our protagonist was fully aware of his situation or his ill fate, but his ego never let him act sensibly. He was not an idiot, he knew everything about his economic crisis. It was just his ego and eagerness to maintain the remnants of his social status, which drove him to the disaster. There are still some people in the Bengali culture, who act in such a way. I have seen some people who still behave like God, just because one of their forefathers used to be a zamindar.
This is one of the big tensions in this film: the extent to which Roy is aware of reality, and the extent to which he remains oblivious to it. I agree that he seems to know what is happening to him, and what is about to happen, but I think the reasons for his wilful state of denial are more complex than ego or a desire to retain his social status.

They have to do with his dawning awareness of how little substance there is left in that status, and how dependent it has become (and has always been) on a series of gestures and performances. The tragedy of this film is that Roy finds himself tasked with sustaining a legacy that consists entirely in appearances. He does have some sense that there are people and things in his life that are more substantial and more important, but the imperative to perpetuate his ancestors’ delusions makes him compulsively perform those prestige-enhancing gestures. If he were not aware that these things are nothing more than gestures, the film would be much less interesting. But I think that his ego is not quite as big as it seems – he is painfully conscious of the void he is trying to cover up.

That void is powerfully represented by the opening shot in the title sequence: the chandelier with all its candles burnt out, its ornate bulbs uncannily producing a sort of faint light of their own, swinging back and forth in an immense blackness. The camera dollies in slowly until the empty bulbs fill the frame, and then we dissolve to an extreme close-up of Biswambhar Roy’s face, before the camera starts dollying back again.

In some sense, the burnt-out chandelier in the void represents Roy. We first see the chandelier from a distance, then get very close to it; then we see Roy up close and slowly draw back from him. This captures something of the film’s ambivalent attitude to its protagonist. The chandelier seems lost and isolated, an absurdly ornate (but also very beautiful) object surrounded by desolation. Roy is the same: the ornate patterning on his gown and chair echo the appearance of the chandelier, while the rooftop of his palace and the water-logged land we see in the distance are bleak and barren. The chandelier is being blown from side to side by the wind, and Roy seems similarly exposed to the elements on the rooftop, with the sky looming over him.

The chandelier-bulbs turn out to be a crucial symbol throughout the film. One of the first things we see in the flashback sequence is bulbs being screwed onto the light fittings along the walls of the palace, and our attention is carefully drawn to the assemblage and lighting of the chandelier before the first recital. The significance of the symbol becomes clear when Roy says (to his anxious wife) that his son is ‘the wick to keep the family flame going’. His point is that the initiation ceremony has to be as lavish as possible, for the sake of ‘prestige’; and not just Roy’s prestige, but that of the family, the torch that Khoka will inherit.

In a sense, the actual initiation seems to occupy a rather subordinate place in this ceremony, although we see Roy looking very seriously at his son during it. For the most part, Khoka himself seems to be absent from the festivities. The fireworks display and music recital form the bulk of this ceremony, and great emphasis is placed not only on Roy’s enjoyment of these displays, but also on his interactions with his peers: he repeatedly looks across at his (unidentified) friend to exchange appreciative looks. They are fellow connoisseurs sharing a moment, but this is also about Roy confirming that his and his family’s prestige is being kept alive in the community. One of the firework displays resembles the chandelier – a constellation of spectacular, transient lights against a black background – and since the chandelier is associated with the music room, we get a sense that the fireworks and the music are all part of the same performance, different but related ways of keeping the wick burning.

There is an interesting scene where Roy continues to play the esraj after the end of his son’s music lesson, telling his wife not to ‘ruin the moment’. On the one hand, we could say that this ‘moment’ has more to do with the music itself than with the now-absent Khoka; on the other hand, it might be precisely the ‘moment’ of connection with his son that Roy is trying to sustain. The latter interpretation carries more weight, I think, because there is no real sense of alienation between father and son: indeed, the strength of the bond between them is part of what makes the mother so anxious. She sees Khoka acquiring his father’s vices – music and riding – and the significance of this is clarified by the moment when Khoka watches his father having his portrait painted. The boy looks from his father to the portrait and back again, and this too is part of his initiation. He is not seeing and interacting with his father solely as a representation; the portrait doesn’t put distance between them. Rather, he is trying to come to terms with the nature and function of such a representation, and to orient himself in relation to it.

Such performances and representations are not simply distractions from ‘what really matters’. We get the sense that they are necessary activities for Roy and his son, specifically because of the increasing prominence of Mahim Ganguli. He represents a threat to Roy because he is becoming more and more proficient in the performance of these roles and gestures that constitute the zamindar’s authority. He can hire the same great musicians, he can be ostentatiously generous to the poor, he can be high-handed and authoritarian. There’s a brilliant and complex scene where Roy learns that Ganguli is throwing a New Year’s party to celebrate the construction of his new house. When he speaks to Ganguli, the zamindar pretends to be reading the paper, then pretends he’s putting on his own party on the same day, then offers to call it off if Ganguli tells him to. Roy is out-performing his new rival, proving that the balance of performative authority still leans towards him. Ganguli cannot call Roy’s bluff by asking him to cancel his party, because that bluff carries so much more conviction than that of the self-made man.

Similarly, after the final music recital, Ganguli tries to throw his money around (literally), but is out-classed by the almost-penniless Roy. That’s where the performance falls apart, of course: Ganguli has money to throw around, whereas Roy at this moment is giving away the last of his wealth. It is tempting to say that Roy’s authority no longer has any substance, whereas Ganguli’s does because he actually has the money and land to back it up. But the film insists that money and even land are just as transient as those other gestures of authority. In Timon of Athens – a play with which this film has many affinities – the hero is shocked to learn that he cannot mortgage any more of his lands, having foolishly nurtured belief that he owned an unlimited amount of property. But as his faithful, despairing steward points out to him: ‘Oh my good lord, the world is but a word. Were it all yours to give it in a breath, how quickly were it gone.’ Being a rich landowner is like that: you can throw your money away with a flick of the wrist (or drop it while sneezing, as Ganguli does), and your land can be swept away just as quickly by floods. Whatever power and status you may have is as fleeting as the ‘word’, the ‘breath’, by which it is signified. Roy competes with Ganguli through gesture and performance because they represent the only kind of power there is in this world.

(It’s worth comparing that moment in Timon with the one in Ray’s film where the zamindar is appalled by his steward’s claim that there is ‘just one final box of jewels’ to mortgage off; he insists that there is no such thing as a ‘final’ box of jewels. This might seem like a moment of pure denial, belying the idea that Roy has any kind of awareness of reality, but I think his rebuke makes sense in the context of his performance of authority in front of Ganguli. Unlike Timon, Roy knows that, in reality, the jewels can run out. But he also knows that acknowledging this out loud is dangerous: his status depends on the concealment of such truths beneath a façade of boundless self-confidence, and the steward needs to go along with this charade.)

Earlier in the film, as he stands at a window watching his wife and son leaving on their trip, Roy’s face is clouded by a look of foreboding. Behind him, in the background, slightly out of focus, we see two bulbs fitted to the wall, identical to those on the chandelier. Like the bulbs in the first shot of the film, they have no light in them. Given that Roy has already characterised his family in terms of a candle-wick that needs to be kept alight, this composition anticipates the extinguishing of these two ‘lights’ in Roy’s life. The shot is echoed later on when, looking forward to the final music recital, Roy paces excitedly back and forth in this same room. Pictures of his wife and son now hang on a wall (not the same part of the wall as in the earlier shot, but in the same part of the frame the bulbs occupied then), and every time he comes closer to the camera, showing us the excitement in his face, the pictures go out of focus. Later, just before going to the recital, he looks sadly up at the picture of his wife, toying with a festive flower-chain in his hands (like the one he gave her at the start). Then he turns away from the picture, and as he moves closer to a lamp, it casts his shadow against the wall, darkening the picture.

A lot of this would seem to work against the protagonist, hinting that Roy is culpable for the deaths of his wife and son, and specifically that his addiction to music is (in part) what kills them. In their absence, his absorption in those empty, competitive gestures blinds him to his family’s welfare, and contributes to their destruction. During the quarrel between husband and wife after the initiation ceremony, Roy quotes the words of the song: ‘My eyes fill with tears when my beloved is away.’ In doing so, he seems oblivious to the fact that his beloved is right there with him.

But what comes across more strongly, I think, is the sense of love and concern between Roy and his family. Indeed, it seems a happier and less dysfunctional family, in some ways, than Apu’s... There’s a lot of room for disagreement on this point, but I would argue that in a way Roy’s love of music is akin to his love for his family, not a distraction from it. Notice how happy and proud the mother looks when she hears Khoka singing, before she puts on a stern face and tells him to go to bed. During the recitals, Roy responds to the emotion in those songs because it chimes with his own love for his family. Notice what happens when he learns of their deaths. The singer in the music room is likening the falling of raindrops to the rain falling from his own eyes; Roy sees the correspondence between this song and his sense of foreboding about his family’s welfare; when he cradles his dead son in his arms and lets out a heart-rending cry, we cut to a shot of the fountain outside the palace entrance, overflowing with torrential rain. Then we’re in Roy’s bedroom, dark except for some light playing on the walls and ceiling – this light is reflected from the water outside, and Roy says to Taraprasanna (his steward) that there is no land to look after any more, as it has all been destroyed by floods. He refuses to hear any music for the next four years.

Yes, the film suggests that Roy is partly responsible for his family’s deaths, since he summoned them home for the recital. There are terrible storms at this time of year, so it’s a dangerous time to travel, and he should have known that. On the other hand, he clearly didn’t know that – his fault is one of thoughtlessness or forgetfulness, and as soon as he becomes aware of the bad weather he is consumed with worry about his family. The effect would have been very different if he had just callously headed straight for the music room at this point. As it is, he misses the start of the performance, then goes in but can’t stay for more than a few minutes because of his anxieties.

He attends part of this performance, not because he heartlessly wants to enjoy the music in spite of his family’s peril, but because he needs to perform his role as zamindar, host and all-round pillar of the community. Insofar as he actually enjoys music, he cannot do so because the music just makes him think of his family. So here’s the crucial point: there is a distinction between his personal love and appreciation of music and his use of music recitals to maintain his prestige; it is the latter that helps to destroy his family, but the former that in some way connects him to them.

The song is about rain: this rain destroys his land and his family. But the song is also about love, expressed through sadness in the loved one’s absence: Roy expresses this profound emotion by cutting himself off from society and from music. With the family wick extinguished, there is no point in performing those empty gestures any longer. At the same time, since he has no one to love any more, so he can take no enjoyment in the music.

What snaps him out of this is the sound of the initiation ceremony for Ganguli’s son. This music, drifting its way to his palace rooftop, reminds Roy of the events from four years ago, and awakens both his competitive spirit and the long-buried emotions associated with his family. As the final recital approaches, he is torn between painful memories of his love for his wife and son and the thrill of out-classing Ganguli. To some extent, the film suggests that the latter ultimately eclipses the former, that Roy cares more about his status and prestige than he does about his own family. Certainly, this competition with Ganguli is intended to prove that Roy has something the upstart doesn’t, that his pedigree, the blood running through his veins, gives him some sort of innate superiority: an authority that resides not in performance and artifice, but in the very core of his being.

We’re never in any doubt that this is a delusion. Blood and pedigree no longer count, if they ever really did. Property and wealth are the only factors that determine real power now. While it may appear at first glance that Roy is oblivious to this fact, I think that he knows it all too well, and that his drunken rant about the ‘blood in his veins’ in the final scene is a self-conscious, self-mocking performance of nobility. He has to get blind drunk before he can raise a glass to his noble ancestors and his ‘noble self’. The ‘noble self’ he drinks to is his portrait, not his reflection (which he has already recognised as aged and decayed), because he knows perfectly well that his ‘noble self’ is nothing more than paint scraped onto the canvas. A spider crawls up the portrait, preparing to rebuild those cobwebs that Roy scraped off the chandelier with his walking stick. Having chased the spider away, Roy laughs at the ease with which he can stave off the decay of his ‘noble self’, but he is horrified to see the candles burn out and the dawn rise. It makes sense for his parodic boasting to segue into suicidal despair. They stem from the same thing: a deep understanding of how ephemeral his existence really is.

And yet, in a very real sense Roy has won a victory over Ganguli. The last time we see the latter, he is cowed with shame after being put down by his (materially destitute) rival. That victory is about more than just a gesture, or some obscure piece of protocol, or the hierarchy that says a zamindar is better than a money-lender’s son. ‘The host reserves the privilege of giving the first gift’: for one thing, Roy gives Ganguli a lesson in basic human politeness, demanding respect not as his social better but as his host. More important, though, is what happens next, when Roy respectfully holds out his gift so that the dancer can receive it gracefully from his hands, preserving the elegance and poise that are the essence of her profession. Ganguli was about to hurl money at her feet so that she could stoop and pick it up. He does not respect, consider or appreciate those who receive him as a guest or those who perform for his pleasure. His subordinates, as much as his ‘betters’, are grist to his mill, nothing more than objects waiting to be exploited by him.

Roy does not just stand for a deluded, arrogant aristocracy. If the music recitals are, to some extent, part of that empty performance of nobility he feels compelled to sustain, they are also moments of real, profound beauty for which he has a deep and deeply human appreciation. That’s why it’s so important to acknowledge the associations (subtle though they sometimes are) between the beauty and pathos of the music and Roy’s love for his family.
Drucker wrote:I will say that I thought the last musical performance went on a bit long (I lost count of how many tracking close-ups he did to the main character, leaned-over, smoking his hookah), but for the most part I think it was fine.
It’s interesting that you mention this. The other week I was trying to find something coherent to say about Naruse’s dolly shots in No Blood Relation (and his other silents). Sometimes it seemed as though he was trying to use the camera to convey the sense of a sound, an utterance, or just a look, or a feeling, making its way towards someone, to give the viewer a stronger sense of the dynamics between the characters, to make their interactions almost tangible (can’t think of the right word) in a specifically cinematic way.

In The Music Room, oddly enough, the effect is quite similar. The camera follows the music as it drifts over the room – the huge fans on either side seem to aid in this process – and especially as it drifts towards and impacts upon Roy in the front row. I think the effect of these shots is to make us feel, not just that we are affected by the music ourselves, but that we are affected by the way in which Roy is affected by it. As with the opening shot of the chandelier, we have to stand back from these moments and see how isolated and decayed Roy is – there is a telling parallel between the wind blowing the chandelier, the fans cooling the decadent spectators in the music room, and the storm that destroys the wife and child and floods the land – but we also have to get closer. We have to understand that these moments are about more than ostentation and prestige, and that Roy’s ‘dangerous addiction’ (as his wife calls it) indicates more than an unhealthy commitment to his noble ancestors’ legacy. Roy is a man who loves music and loves his family, but the portraits in the music room never let him forget that he is also a zamindar with a status to uphold. These two sides to his character cannot be separated, meaning that his best instincts are often hard to distinguish from his worst.

In any case, for me what is left after the film ends is not primarily a sense of futility and folly, but a sense of regret at what has been lost in the (self-)destruction of this man and, paradoxically, an enduring impression of fleeting visual and aural beauty. The film is undeniably critical of the decadence of Roy’s existence, and anxious about the intoxicating effects of immersing oneself in these sensual pleasures. But it is just as intoxicated by those pleasures as its protagonist is, and expects us to be so too.

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Re: The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#64 Post by Black Hat » Mon Mar 23, 2015 8:46 pm

Sloper wrote: What makes this film so brilliant is its intense, immersive empathy for the main character.
How much empathy can a film have for its main character when he's going broke, is responsible for the deaths of his wife and child before crescendoing with his own absurd death? Having said that for all of his absurdities Ray, smartly, did not judge his protagonist.

If there is empathy or nostalgia in the film it's not for the zamindar it's for the evolving culture. Yes there's now electric generators, cars and so forth, but the price paid for modernization seems to be the loss of tradition, customs and manners.
Sloper wrote: The tragedy of this film is that Roy finds himself tasked with sustaining a legacy that consists entirely in appearances.
Not so much tragic as it was a revelation.
Sloper wrote: but I think the reasons for his wilful state of denial are more complex than ego or a desire to retain his social status.

They have to do with his dawning awareness of how little substance there is left in that status, and how dependent it has become (and has always been) on a series of gestures and performances.
To us, the viewer, it's what is illuminated but to the zamindar, every time his social status is challenged he tries to show up his rival displaying a pettiness of a spoiled child which his soon to be dead wife called him before departing.
Sloper wrote: But I think that his ego is not quite as big as it seems – he is painfully conscious of the void he is trying to cover up.
This isn't true at all, more than once he made decisions purely out of ego — spite, jealousy. I would contend that Ray's casting here was deft, as it's hard to root against a music loving jolly old fat guy, but time and again the zamindar was shown to be abhorrently self centered.

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Re: The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#65 Post by Sloper » Tue Mar 24, 2015 12:04 pm

Black Hat wrote:How much empathy can a film have for its main character when he's going broke, is responsible for the deaths of his wife and child before crescendoing with his own absurd death?
Why would his going broke preclude our empathy?

It's an oversimplification to say that he is 'responsible for the deaths of his wife and child'. He demands that they come home for the New Year's festival, and in the background, if we’re watching closely, we see Taraprasanna twitch nervously at the suggestion, but we're given no indication that the trip will be a dangerous one. Perhaps we're supposed to know this because it's a New Year's festival - but it seems more like the film wants to hold back the fact that there are storms at this time of year until the next scene, when we see Roy pacing nervously and sending out canoes on a rescue mission. He wants his wife and son back because they serve a purpose in helping him to defeat his rival - but they also mean a lot more to him than this. As Andrew Robinson points out in one of the supplements, in the original story the wife and son die of cholera. Ray clearly made this change in order to put some responsibility onto Roy for what happens; his petty rivalry with Ganguli has inadvertently caused the deaths of his family. But the word 'inadvertently' is crucial here.

And yes, there is something absurd in his death, as I said above, but there is also something tragic - notice how Ananta, a primarily comic character, reacts at this moment.
Black Hat wrote:If there is empathy or nostalgia in the film it's not for the zamindar it's for the evolving culture. Yes there's now electric generators, cars and so forth, but the price paid for modernization seems to be the loss of tradition, customs and manners.
Well put, but those traditions, customs and manners are embodied pretty much exclusively in Biswambhar Roy. I don't think the film feels sorry for the musicians, who will obviously continue to thrive - they just might not be appreciated quite as deeply as they were by Roy, and as they are by us if the film does its job properly. The film isn’t nostalgic for the title, ‘zamindar’, but there is more to Roy than this title.
Black Hat wrote:Not so much tragic as it was a revelation.
Again, what distinction are you making here? Can you name a single tragedy where a 'revelation' is not integral to the tragic effect?
Black Hat wrote:
Sloper wrote: but I think the reasons for his wilful state of denial are more complex than ego or a desire to retain his social status.

They have to do with his dawning awareness of how little substance there is left in that status, and how dependent it has become (and has always been) on a series of gestures and performances.

To us, the viewer, it's what is illuminated but to the zamindar, every time his social status is challenged he tries to show up his rival displaying a pettiness of a spoiled child which his soon to be dead wife called him before departing.
He does repeatedly try to 'show up' his rival, to prove that Ganguli is inferior to him. And yes, in a sense this seems deeply petty. But Roy does not simply take it as read that he is the better man, and that he can out-class Ganguli without any effort. He competes with his neighbour partly through deception and performance, and I think he knows this is the only way he can win this competition. If you disagree, what evidence leads you think that Roy really regards his superiority as inherent, and not as residing solely in transient gestures? He says at one point, 'The burden of my virtues is not negligible', referring to a display of generosity during the flood: he seems conscious that his 'virtues' are wholly contingent on such displays, hence his understandable insecurity when Ganguli starts doing the same thing. You might point to his climactic rant, where he boasts about the blood in his veins: as I said before, I don't think he's totally unaware of the ironic tone these boasts take on in context, and I think this irony flows naturally into his despair when he sees the lights go out; but perhaps you read the scene differently?

When does his wife call him a spoiled child? Maybe I missed this? She tells him to 'behave himself' before she leaves, repeating the instruction he has just given to his son. And she's certainly very critical of his addiction to music, his reckless spending, his obliviousness to the flooding of the land, his pretentious airs, and the poor example he's setting to his son. But she's also clearly a loving, affectionate and in many ways quite indulgent wife - again, I think you may be over-simplifying this relationship.
Black Hat wrote:
Sloper wrote: But I think that his ego is not quite as big as it seems – he is painfully conscious of the void he is trying to cover up.

This isn't true at all, more than once he made decisions purely out of ego — spite, jealousy.
Clearly, ego motivates a lot of his behaviour – at first glance, pretty much all of it. But like most egotistical people, Roy is driven primarily by an insecurity that stems from an awareness of how hollow his status and authority really are, that is, by a crippling self-doubt.

Compare him to the protagonist of The Leopard (and this applies more to Visconti’s film than to Lampedusa’s novel): Don Fabrizio never wavers in his self-belief and self-confidence, nor does he ever lose his sense of natural, personal authority. This is why he can enjoy such a clear-eyed perception of the changes taking place around him. His sadness stems from the realisation that his kind have died out, and that the profoundly inferior jackals and wolves will inherit his world.

With Biswambhar Roy, the point is subtly different: he realises that insofar as he has any status or authority, these are reliant on a façade that can be adopted quite easily even by a man as loathsome as Ganguli. The film leaves us in no doubt that Roy really is superior to Ganguli – and by the way, I think this complicates the notion that this rivalry is merely petty – but this is not because he is a zamindar who owns land and holds lavish music recitals. His superiority, unlike Don Fabrizio’s, comes from his love for his family and his love for music, both of which suggest a nobility of character that has nothing to do with his parentage or his ability to wield authority.
Black Hat wrote:Having said that for all of his absurdities Ray, smartly, did not judge his protagonist...

I would contend that Ray's casting here was deft, as it's hard to root against a music loving jolly old fat guy, but time and again the zamindar was shown to be abhorrently self centered.
You seem to have argued that the film does judge the protagonist, and that it does ask us to root against him (‘abhorrent’ is a pretty strong word), so these statements are confusing.

Moreover, while there is something a bit Falstaff-like about Roy at certain moments, I find it hard to recognise your description of him as a ‘music loving jolly old fat guy’.

Yes, the film is mocking and critical of its protagonist in all sorts of ways, but it also works hard to invite our sympathy for him and invest him with a tragic dignity, even (I would argue) a kind of nobility. This is why the character, and the film, have such emotional depth and complexity, and this seems to me the main appeal of The Music Room. You obviously see it very differently – so what do you like most about this film?

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Re: The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#66 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Mar 24, 2015 2:44 pm

Sloper -- really good comments that I mostly agree with.

I do think that the protagonist is not so much (primarily) personally egotistical, so much as he is obsessed with upholding the image he has of the position he holds. Like Madam Ranevskaya (in Cherry Orchard) she is so bound by her unrealistic attachment to an idealized past that she can not bend even a little bit to stave off loss of everything.

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Re: The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#67 Post by Black Hat » Tue Mar 24, 2015 4:39 pm

Sloper wrote:
Black Hat wrote:How much empathy can a film have for its main character when he's going broke, is responsible for the deaths of his wife and child before crescendoing with his own absurd death?
Why would his going broke preclude our empathy?
As he's not only gone broke out of lavishness but also against the wishes of his wife.
Sloper wrote: It's an oversimplification to say that he is 'responsible for the deaths of his wife and child'... He wants his wife and son back because they serve a purpose in helping him to defeat his rival - but they also mean a lot more to him than this. As Andrew Robinson points out in one of the supplements, in the original story the wife and son die of cholera. Ray clearly made this change in order to put some responsibility onto Roy for what happens; his petty rivalry with Ganguli has inadvertently caused the deaths of his family. But the word 'inadvertently' is crucial here.
Out of selfishness he summons his family to return early, did he know that they were going to die? Of course not but his pettiness did cost them their lives. Inadvertent for sure, but I don't see how you get around that. In fact one would think the zamindar would learn from this tragedy but no he continues to make everything about himself. First by isolating himself for four years which he sees as a punishment, but this is only a continuation of the pattern of grand gestures befitting his social status. Then he comes back behaving in the same exact way he had before. This man has not been humbled despite all that's happened to him, that's the tragedy.
Sloper wrote: And yes, there is something absurd in his death, as I said above, but there is also something tragic - notice how Ananta, a primarily comic character, reacts at this moment.
Perhaps but Ananta is a dog to Roy's master, hence why he allows him to go and is then upset by the outcome.
Sloper wrote: The film isn’t nostalgic for the title, ‘zamindar’, but there is more to Roy than this title.
Black Hat wrote:Not so much tragic as it was a revelation.
Again, what distinction are you making here? Can you name a single tragedy where a 'revelation' is not integral to the tragic effect?
Maybe there is more to the zamindar, but he's not that complicated. I'm saying outside of the deaths of his family there isn't any tragedy to what is revealed to the zamindar. In fact, a case could be made that his shouting at the paintings of his ancestors was pathetic. Perhaps it was the realization of this, that those people are irrelevant, which led to his suicidal decision to ride.
Sloper wrote: He does repeatedly try to 'show up' his rival, to prove that Ganguli is inferior to him. And yes, in a sense this seems deeply petty. If you disagree, what evidence leads you think that Roy really regards his superiority as inherent, and not as residing solely in transient gestures? You might point to his climactic rant, where he boasts about the blood in his veins: as I said before, I don't think he's totally unaware of the ironic tone these boasts take on in context, and I think this irony flows naturally into his despair when he sees the lights go out; but perhaps you read the scene differently?
In a sense? It's downright shamefully petty. What is Ganguli guilty of besides being ill mannered, not adhering to protocol? The guy more than once invites him to his home to only get poked in the eye. Furthermore you get the sense that for all of his flaws Ganguli meant well, that if Roy had asked for money he would have gladly helped him out. Instead Mr. Zamindar will not allow himself to be helped by the son of a money lender. And yes his boasting speaks to that as after, spurred on by the blood and spirits of his ancestors, he hops up on his white horse who promptly throws him off, breaking his neck.
Sloper wrote: When does his wife call him a spoiled child? Maybe I missed this? She tells him to 'behave himself' before she leaves, repeating the instruction he has just given to his son. And she's certainly very critical of his addiction to music, his reckless spending, his obliviousness to the flooding of the land, his pretentious airs, and the poor example he's setting to his son. But she's also clearly a loving, affectionate and in many ways quite indulgent wife - again, I think you may be over-simplifying this relationship.
She doesn't by word call him a spoiled child but that's certainly how she thinks he behaves. Even in how he lays in the bed speaking with her he does so like a child. It doesn't mean that she doesn't love the guy but it's clear she feels he needs to grow up.
Sloper wrote: Compare him to the protagonist of The Leopard (and this applies more to Visconti’s film than to Lampedusa’s novel): Don Fabrizio never wavers in his self-belief and self-confidence, nor does he ever lose his sense of natural, personal authority. This is why he can enjoy such a clear-eyed perception of the changes taking place around him. His sadness stems from the realisation that his kind have died out, and that the profoundly inferior jackals and wolves will inherit his world.

With Biswambhar Roy, the point is subtly different: he realises that insofar as he has any status or authority, these are reliant on a façade that can be adopted quite easily even by a man as loathsome as Ganguli. The film leaves us in no doubt that Roy really is superior to Ganguli – and by the way, I think this complicates the notion that this rivalry is merely petty – but this is not because he is a zamindar who owns land and holds lavish music recitals. His superiority, unlike Don Fabrizio’s, comes from his love for his family and his love for music, both of which suggest a nobility of character that has nothing to do with his parentage or his ability to wield authority.
Lancaster's character is an imminently more sympathetic one than Roy's, partly because his status was earned, partly because he is shown to be far superior than everyone else around him. The point isn't subtly different, I think the two are opposite ends. Roy's nobility doesn't come from his love of family or music it comes from his love of himself which he defines thru the class he was born into. Additionally, is Ganguli really that loathsome? I think that's oversimplifying things. To me given all that happens to Roy it calls into question where our sympathies should lie. In a sense Roy and Ganguli are both idiots, do you prefer the guy with better manners who feels music in a more dignified way or do you prefer the guy who means well, wants to have a good time but doesn't know how to act?
Sloper wrote:
Black Hat wrote:Having said that for all of his absurdities Ray, smartly, did not judge his protagonist...

I would contend that Ray's casting here was deft, as it's hard to root against a music loving jolly old fat guy, but time and again the zamindar was shown to be abhorrently self centered.
You seem to have argued that the film does judge the protagonist, and that it does ask us to root against him (‘abhorrent’ is a pretty strong word), so these statements are confusing.
Well abhorrent was how I felt about his behavior but as we see with yourself and Michael it's certainly left open to interpretation by Ray.
Sloper wrote: Moreover, while there is something a bit Falstaff-like about Roy at certain moments, I find it hard to recognise your description of him as a ‘music loving jolly old fat guy’.
There was a child like innocence to Roy that resonated throughout the film obviously peaking during the musical numbers. The reality here tho was that there was a duality here, innocence and selfishness. Usually when someone is able to display genuine innocence it masks over a lot of obvious shortcomings. This is what I think has happened with our zamindar.
Sloper wrote: Yes, the film is mocking and critical of its protagonist in all sorts of ways, but it also works hard to invite our sympathy for him and invest him with a tragic dignity, even (I would argue) a kind of nobility. This is why the character, and the film, have such emotional depth and complexity, and this seems to me the main appeal of The Music Room. You obviously see it very differently – so what do you like most about this film?
I'm glad you asked because remarkably before I read your post I saw the film along similar lines. Then as I read many of my own thoughts articulated thru your words I began to realize that who I saw as a tragic figure, the zamindar, was in fact a delusional, horrendous human being. This duality between him being sympathetic or egocentric, Roy and his family, Roy and Ganjuli is what I love about the film. I love that music is used to bring about all these conflicts. It's a remarkable film, a testament to what we think vs what we know vs what we see vs what we want to believe.

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Re: The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#68 Post by Sloper » Wed Mar 25, 2015 10:24 am

Michael Kerpan wrote:I do think that the protagonist is not so much (primarily) personally egotistical, so much as he is obsessed with upholding the image he has of the position he holds. Like Madam Ranevskaya (in Cherry Orchard) she is so bound by her unrealistic attachment to an idealized past that she can not bend even a little bit to stave off loss of everything.
Yes, you prompted me to read that play again and the parallels are fascinating - especially the way that Madam Ranevskaya seems, like Biswambhar Roy, to suffer from a compulsive prodigality. And there's a similar tension between the moments of lucidity and self-awareness Chekhov's characters occasionally enjoy, and the utter self-absorption that prevents them from seeing or hearing what is happening around them most of the time.

Chekhov really foregrounds the sense that these aristocrats have lived off their slaves for generations, and that Lopakhin's triumph (and the destruction of the cherry orchard) serves as a sort of karmic vengeance for this. In The Music Room, there is something like this in the way Roy tyrannises over his servants (especially Taraprasanna), whose loyalty he mostly takes for granted. There's that really touching moment where he asks the steward why he and Ananta have stayed behind, and the steward replies, 'What would happen if we left?' This shows both Roy's dim, but sympathetic, awareness of how little he deserves the loyalty of his servants, and also his lack of awareness about his own dependence on them - it's as if he doesn't realise that he wouldn't survive if they weren't there to serve him his sherbet. Other than this, though, Ray's film doesn't go out of its way to blame its protagonist for exploiting other human beings: the land has been destroyed by forces beyond his control, and if anything he seems to be very popular among the locals in a way that Ganguli is not.
Black Hat wrote:As he's not only gone broke out of lavishness but also against the wishes of his wife.
That's a fair point. I do think, though, that on another level the film seduces us with the pleasures Roy has spent all this money on, so that at the same time as we judge him for his prodigality, we can also understand why he thinks the expense is worth it - and feel that his wife is missing out on something when she says she refuses to hear the singer in the music room.
Black Hat wrote:Out of selfishness he summons his family to return early, did he know that they were going to die? Of course not but his pettiness did cost them their lives. Inadvertent for sure, but I don't see how you get around that. In fact one would think the zamindar would learn from this tragedy but no he continues to make everything about himself. First by isolating himself for four years which he sees as a punishment, but this is only a continuation of the pattern of grand gestures befitting his social status. Then he comes back behaving in the same exact way he had before. This man has not been humbled despite all that's happened to him, that's the tragedy.
I suppose that's a tenable reading - I don't quite see it in such harsh terms, and don't think it's a question of 'getting around it' or not. Everything you say here has some truth in it, but I think the film does suggest that Roy has been changed by the deaths of his family. I see his choice to deprive himself of music as a genuine form of penance, and as I said before, when the final recital is approaching it is clear that Roy is troubled by memories of his wife and son. If the whole point of this were simply that he had not learnt anything or been changed in any way, I'm not sure there would be much of a tragic effect. As you asked before, how much empathy could we feel for such a contemptible character, and how much could we therefore invest in his story? He does lapse back into his old ways, but he's also torn between different emotions and impulses.
Black Hat wrote:Ananta is a dog to Roy's master, hence why he allows him to go and is then upset by the outcome.
Again, a fair point but a little harsh and one-sided. The film invites a much more complex response to Ananta, and his joy when the music room is re-opened is surely meant to be infectious. That joy stems not simply from pleasing his master, but also from a love for the music itself. The film makes it abundantly clear that the music room is not just built for an audience of one, and that while the spectators are mostly aristocrats and the servants are there to serve, the latter do also get to share in the pleasures on offer.
Black Hat wrote:Maybe there is more to the zamindar, but he's not that complicated. I'm saying outside of the deaths of his family there isn't any tragedy to what is revealed to the zamindar. In fact, a case could be made that his shouting at the paintings of his ancestors was pathetic. Perhaps it was the realization of this, that those people are irrelevant, which led to his suicidal decision to ride.
It's certainly pathetic, in every sense, and pathos is essential to tragedy. You seem to be arguing that this scene prompts nothing more than contempt for the zamindar, and that certainly would forestall any sense of tragedy. Your last sentence chimes precisely with how I read the ending, but that sounds like a tragic realisation to me: those ancestors who have defined Roy's existence, who have instilled in him these delusions of innate superiority, and who have driven him into this futile competition with Ganguli, suddenly appear to him in their full, inglorious irrelevance. His whole being falls apart and he kills himself. Do you really not sense anything tragic in that? To say that the zamindar is 'not that complicated' is really selling this film short.
Black Hat wrote:In a sense? It's downright shamefully petty. What is Ganguli guilty of besides being ill mannered, not adhering to protocol? The guy more than once invites him to his home to only get poked in the eye. Furthermore you get the sense that for all of his flaws Ganguli meant well, that if Roy had asked for money he would have gladly helped him out. Instead Mr. Zamindar will not allow himself to be helped by the son of a money lender. And yes his boasting speaks to that as after, spurred on by the blood and spirits of his ancestors, he hops up on his white horse who promptly throws him off, breaking his neck.
...
Lancaster's character is an imminently more sympathetic one than Roy's, partly because his status was earned, partly because he is shown to be far superior than everyone else around him. The point isn't subtly different, I think the two are opposite ends. Roy's nobility doesn't come from his love of family or music it comes from his love of himself which he defines thru the class he was born into. Additionally, is Ganguli really that loathsome? I think that's oversimplifying things. To me given all that happens to Roy it calls into question where our sympathies should lie. In a sense Roy and Ganguli are both idiots, do you prefer the guy with better manners who feels music in a more dignified way or do you prefer the guy who means well, wants to have a good time but doesn't know how to act?
With regard to The Leopard, yes Don Fabrizio inspires far more respect and admiration in the other characters and the viewer than Biswambhar Roy does, but he's also a much colder, more abusive character: remember his contempt and cruelty towards his wife and daughter, and his general bullying tendencies (which go far beyond the way Roy talks to his servants). When I said that Roy's nobility comes from his love for his family and music, I meant that these are the redeeming features the film calls attention to; Roy also believes that his parentage gives him some kind of innate nobility, and that's a poisonous delusion. But surely you can see that he also loves things and people besides himself?

You make a good point about Ganguli when you say that I over-simplified his character. The word 'loathsome' is indeed too strong, and from your comments I can see how you might read him more sympathetically. On the whole, though, I maintain that Ganguli is a primarily unsympathetic caricature. I think it's inaccurate to say that he 'means well', or to suggest that he would have gladly given money to Roy out of generosity. His words, actions and body language make it quite clear that he is an obsequious hypocrite, sucking up to Roy in the hope of taking advantage of him, then treating him in an increasingly patronising and insulting way as the balance of power shifts. He is transparently exploitative, and he wants to help Roy out in the same way that Lopakhin helps out his good pals in The Cherry Orchard; they may have their downfall coming because of their ignorance and prodigality, but the man taking over the reins of power is disturbingly unscrupulous and dishonest.

Notice Ganguli's behaviour and his words to Taraprasanna while waiting to be received by Roy: he mocks the dilapidated status of the palace, mocks the absence of servants (in front of one of the two remaining servants, who looks like he wants to punch him), and remarks callously that 'even a dead elephant is worth a fortune'. That comment bears an obvious relation to his resentful account of his hostile reception at the hands of the locals when he drove past in his car, whereas Roy's elephant was greeted with cheers and admiration. We know the elephant as Moti, and saw it being washed and ridden by Roy's son. Ganguli would like to see that magnificent elephant dead and make some money off it.

As you suggest, we can feel some sympathy for this man who is looked down upon simply because he is moving with the times, and because his low birth does not inspire the unthinking subservience that Roy and his ancestors have cultivated over the years. But more than this, the film seems to suggest an equation between Roy's pride in his ancestry and Ganguli's pride in his 'self-made' status, between Roy's pretensions and Ganguli's. Ganguli has most of Roy's faults plus a few more of his own, but without any obvious redeeming features. A lot of the time he serves to show up Roy's faults: in competing with this man, Roy reveals how much he resembles him. So yes, he's more complex than I suggested, but I think you're overlooking some crucial aspects of his character in your more sympathetic reading.
Black Hat wrote:There was a child like innocence to Roy that resonated throughout the film obviously peaking during the musical numbers. The reality here tho was that there was a duality here, innocence and selfishness. Usually when someone is able to display genuine innocence it masks over a lot of obvious shortcomings. This is what I think has happened with our zamindar.
You're right, but I think innocence does more than just 'mask' other shortcomings; it changes the way we see those shortcomings. The duality you refer to works in a sort of 'both/and' sense, rather than an 'either/or' sense. On which note...
Black Hat wrote:I'm glad you asked because remarkably before I read your post I saw the film along similar lines. Then as I read many of my own thoughts articulated thru your words I began to realize that who I saw as a tragic figure, the zamindar, was in fact a delusional, horrendous human being. This duality between him being sympathetic or egocentric, Roy and his family, Roy and Ganjuli is what I love about the film. I love that music is used to bring about all these conflicts. It's a remarkable film, a testament to what we think vs what we know vs what we see vs what we want to believe.
The problem I have with this is your use of the phrase 'in fact'. The one reading shouldn't simply replace the other. The zamindar is both of those things at the same time, which is why this duality is so effective. If the film is about all those dualities that 'we' experience, we have to be able to empathise with the fictional character experiencing them, as well as having the sense of perspective that allows us to discern what is happening in a way that he doesn't.

But I absolutely share your love of the way music brings about these tensions throughout the film. The recitals are so rich and powerful because they work on so many levels. We share Roy's (and others') enjoyment of the music, but at the same time we can see that there is something limiting and/or dangerous about its intoxicating effects, and perhaps something dysfunctional about the relationship between the musicians and the audience. There's a great moment when Roy is enjoying a private recital from a sitar-player, and at one point he makes an appreciative sound - the musician pauses to acknowledge this appreciation - and a few seconds later we see the musician looking up slightly nervously at his patron, as though measuring his reaction to the music, perhaps even silently judging Roy's lassitude, pomposity and sense of entitlement. Music is not simply the zamindar's play-thing in this film, it also has a subversive force that works to expose his limitations.

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Re: The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#69 Post by aox » Wed Mar 25, 2015 10:50 am

Great thread everyone.
chatterjees wrote:The background score was one of the most important aspects of the film, in term of marketing when it was released. Having Vilayat Khan and his brother Imrat scoring a film was a big deal at that time. You have to keep in mind that Ravi Shankar was not that popular when Ray began his career.
Also, to the diehard followers of Indian Classical Music at that time, Sitar playing was broadly popularized by two schools. One was dominated by Ravi Shankar and was very commercial (I am not saying that it's bad, it's just something else), whereas the other school was dominated by Vilayat Khan or Nikhil Banerjee etc., who were stuck to the traditional style. I personally prefer the 2nd category.
The 2nd most important selling point of the film was presence of Chhabi Biswas.
Fantastic. I can add that I had never realized how important film soundtracks were to Indian culture. I traveled northern India last year shooting a documentary for the BBC. I was with a colleague in an outdoor restaurant off the ghat one afternoon in Varanasi, and I randomly asked the waiter at the skepticism of my colleague if he knew Ray's The Music Room. To much of my colleague's surprise, the random 40-something waiter replied, "Yes, that is a classic Indian 'album' (not film), and it is great."

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Re: The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#70 Post by chatterjees » Wed Mar 25, 2015 12:51 pm

aox wrote:Great thread everyone.
chatterjees wrote:The background score was one of the most important aspects of the film, in term of marketing when it was released. Having Vilayat Khan and his brother Imrat scoring a film was a big deal at that time. You have to keep in mind that Ravi Shankar was not that popular when Ray began his career.
Also, to the diehard followers of Indian Classical Music at that time, Sitar playing was broadly popularized by two schools. One was dominated by Ravi Shankar and was very commercial (I am not saying that it's bad, it's just something else), whereas the other school was dominated by Vilayat Khan or Nikhil Banerjee etc., who were stuck to the traditional style. I personally prefer the 2nd category.
The 2nd most important selling point of the film was presence of Chhabi Biswas.
Fantastic. I can add that I had never realized how important film soundtracks were to Indian culture. I traveled northern India last year shooting a documentary for the BBC. I was with a colleague in an outdoor restaurant off the ghat one afternoon in Varanasi, and I randomly asked the waiter at the skepticism of my colleague if he knew Ray's The Music Room. To much of my colleague's surprise, the random 40-something waiter replied, "Yes, that is a classic Indian 'album' (not film), and it is great."
Not surprising to me. Half of Varanashi population is probably Bengali and vivid followers of Indian Classical Music. Ray was very popular in Varanashi too as he shot two of his important films there (may be more, but I can't remember right now), Aparajito and Joi Baba Felunath: The Elephant God.
Not sure why he said "Yes, that is a classic Indian 'album' (not film), and it is great.", because if there is a soundtrack release for The Music Room, I would love to buy that right now.

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Re: The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#71 Post by naersjoen » Wed Mar 25, 2015 2:19 pm

chatterjees wrote:[..] if there is a soundtrack release for The Music Room, I would love to buy that right now.
Probably not the release that waiter would have heard, but apparently there exists a French LP containing music and dialogue from the film. You can also find several Jalsaghar pieces on this compilation of Indian film music, which can also be found on Spotify. (I haven't listened to either of these yet, so don't know if these are the same recordings that were used in the film.)

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Re: The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)

#72 Post by Black Hat » Wed Mar 25, 2015 8:46 pm

Sloper wrote:
Black Hat wrote:As he's not only gone broke out of lavishness but also against the wishes of his wife.
That's a fair point. I do think, though, that on another level the film seduces us with the pleasures Roy has spent all this money on, so that at the same time as we judge him for his prodigality, we can also understand why he thinks the expense is worth it - and feel that his wife is missing out on something when she says she refuses to hear the singer in the music room.
I love your use of seduction here, for that 's exactly what's going on and would make a great log line for the film.
Sloper wrote:the film does suggest that Roy has been changed by the deaths of his family. I see his choice to deprive himself of music as a genuine form of penance, and as I said before, when the final recital is approaching it is clear that Roy is troubled by memories of his wife and son. If the whole point of this were simply that he had not learnt anything or been changed in any way, I'm not sure there would be much of a tragic effect. As you asked before, how much empathy could we feel for such a contemptible character, and how much could we therefore invest in his story? He does lapse back into his old ways, but he's also torn between different emotions and impulses.
Was it penance or was it self pity? Perhaps it doesn't matter, but if it was penance, why then does he revert back to the behavior that cost him so much? Lastly, the music is what allowed me to feel empathy. Perhaps the tragedy I felt, the compassion I had when Roy perished was not for him, but for death of the music room?
Sloper wrote:The film invites a much more complex response to Ananta, and his joy when the music room is re-opened is surely meant to be infectious. That joy stems not simply from pleasing his master, but also from a love for the music itself. The film makes it abundantly clear that the music room is not just built for an audience of one, and that while the spectators are mostly aristocrats and the servants are there to serve, the latter do also get to share in the pleasures on offer.
I don't deny Ananta loved music but lets say Roy loved gardening would he have reacted any different?
Sloper wrote:Do you really not sense anything tragic in that? To say that the zamindar is 'not that complicated' is really selling this film short.
Sure the manner of which he came to his pointless end was tragic, but I still contend the zamindar was not a complicated guy. All he wanted out of life was to lay about and enjoy music, how complex is that? Once his life was hit with tragedy, his place in society was threatened you saw his demise coming a mile away.
Sloper wrote:But surely you can see that he also loves things and people besides himself?
He loves music, his wife and child but it's all inside his own pyramid. Even when he's setting up the initiation he makes it clear to his wife that it's not so much about the son or the tradition than it is about upholding his status.
Sloper wrote:I maintain that Ganguli is a primarily unsympathetic caricature. I think it's inaccurate to say that he 'means well', or to suggest that he would have gladly given money to Roy out of generosity. His words, actions and body language make it quite clear that he is an obsequious hypocrite, sucking up to Roy in the hope of taking advantage of him, then treating him in an increasingly patronising and insulting way as the balance of power shifts.
Ganguli has most of Roy's faults plus a few more of his own, but without any obvious redeeming features.
Ganguli is crass and not a person one can like, but he does as you say suck up to Roy, treating him with respect. It's only after he is insulted that he turns condescending, yet still never too much to Roy's face. Tho he is nowhere near as knowledgable as Roy I would contend Ganguli's similar love for music is what makes him far more sympathetic than what he appears. Like Roy, his redeeming feature.
Sloper wrote:
Black Hat wrote:I'm glad you asked because remarkably before I read your post I saw the film along similar lines. Then as I read many of my own thoughts articulated thru your words I began to realize that who I saw as a tragic figure, the zamindar, was in fact a delusional, horrendous human being. This duality between him being sympathetic or egocentric, Roy and his family, Roy and Ganjuli is what I love about the film. I love that music is used to bring about all these conflicts. It's a remarkable film, a testament to what we think vs what we know vs what we see vs what we want to believe.
The problem I have with this is your use of the phrase 'in fact'. The one reading shouldn't simply replace the other. The zamindar is both of those things at the same time, which is why this duality is so effective. If the film is about all those dualities that 'we' experience, we have to be able to empathise with the fictional character experiencing them, as well as having the sense of perspective that allows us to discern what is happening in a way that he doesn't.
Perhaps you're right but after our dialogue here, I wonder if the next time I watch it I'll have the same sympathies.

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Re: 573 The Music Room

#73 Post by Sloper » Mon Mar 30, 2015 7:30 am

Thanks for the detailed responses, Black Hat - I can certainly see your point more than I did before. I just wanted to respond to this bit:
Black Hat wrote:Ganguli is crass and not a person one can like, but he does as you say suck up to Roy, treating him with respect. It's only after he is insulted that he turns condescending, yet still never too much to Roy's face. Tho he is nowhere near as knowledgable as Roy I would contend Ganguli's similar love for music is what makes him far more sympathetic than what he appears. Like Roy, his redeeming feature.
I can see where you're coming from, but I read it differently: it seems to me that sucking up to someone is not a sign of respect. Quite the opposite, in fact, and this is borne out by Ganguli's subsequent behaviour. Perhaps that's a chicken/egg issue, though.

And I don't think Ganguli genuinely loves the music. Look at him during the first recital, taking snuff, fidgeting restlessly, needing a glass of wine to get him through the performance, trying too hard to look as though he's appreciating it. His attempt to throw money at the dancer at the end of the third recital underlines this point. It isn't simply that he lacks Roy's pompous sense of dignity and 'nobility', it's that he genuinely has no appreciation for the subtle, sophisticated pleasures offered by the music. For him, hiring these musicians and dancers is intended to boost his social standing, and nothing else, whereas for Roy it is about that but also about a genuine love of music.

This reading might make it sound as though the film associates appreciation of music with the aristocracy, suggesting that a bourgeois upstart like Ganguli lacks the necessary faculties to understand this kind of beauty. I don't think this is what the film is suggesting, however, firstly because we see the servant, Ananta, enjoying the music too (I disagree that he is simply aping his master, but you're right that his devotion to Roy plays a big part in motivating Ananta's enthusiasm), but mainly because we, the (largely non-aristocratic) audience, are also expected to enjoy this music.

To reiterate, Ganguli isn't vilified because of his lack of 'pedigree', to which he self-pityingly attributes his lack of popularity. Rather, it is his relentless materialism that the film takes issue with.

Biswambhar Roy is so wrapped up in intangible pleasures that he loses touch with reality, and with real people; Mahim Ganguli is so wrapped up in tangible gains that he can't appreciate anything beyond them. Roy's flaw destroys his family and himself, but also brings something beautiful into the world; Ganguli's flaw serves to promote his own interests (and those of his family, we assume) but degrades anything beautiful by mechanising and/or monetising it.

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Re: 573 The Music Room

#74 Post by jindianajonz » Mon Mar 30, 2015 1:19 pm

I think your unsympathetic reading of Roy is missing one thing, Black Hat- the fact that Roy is not just pursuing his own indulgences or the success of his family (though he certainly is), but that he is desperately trying to maintain the aristocratic system he grew up in. In fact, it is Roy's attempts to balance these three desires that lends his character complexity, since sometimes they go hand in hand (such as his son's initiation ceremony) but at other times they are in conflict with eachother (maintaining the family's prestige takes a huge toll on their financial security, and of course Roy's desire to have his wife and son put in an appearance at the second recital unwittingly costs them their lives). Rather than Roy putting on a "show" of penance following the loss of his family, I think the event had a profound effect on him- he certainly shows genuine anguish when cradling the lifeless body of his son, and in the following four years he ceases pursuit of all three of his passions.

When he does finally return from his period of mourning, it is not because he hasn't "learned his lessons", but because he realizes that one of his two remaining passions is threatened- Ganguli is holding an initiation ceremony for his own son, another sign that the middle class is gaining the upper hand in this Marxian struggle. He gathers everything he has left for one last hurrah, and after basking in his victory it finally hits him that this cannot continue- without any financial resources, he has lost his music and the aristocracy just as surely as he lost his family, that his lineage is worth less and less, and in a display as admirable as it is pathetic, he races off on his horse certain that it will be his last ride.

It is easy for the present day viewer to dismiss aristocracy as indulgent and chide those like Roy for squandering everything away, but I see the whole thing as a battle for survival. Roy was trapped in the system as much as he was supported by it- despite the fact that giving away money to flood victims and bringing in the country's best musicians were taking a huge toll on his wealth, stopping these activities would completely ruin the prestige that supports the entire aristocratic system. Also keep in mind that when we began this story, Roy was already in a weakened state- he had just sold his family jewels to keep up payments. I think it is unfair to call Roy spoiled or detached- as I see it, he simply valued prestige more than material wealth, and made the difficult but necessary trade-offs to try and support it.

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Re: 573 The Music Room

#75 Post by nitin » Sat Nov 23, 2019 7:26 pm

It’s taken some 15 years but my top 3 films of all time has finally been disturbed and Chinatown drops from number 2 to number 3.

Replacing it at number 2 is Satyajit Ray’s monumentally staggering The Music Room (Jalsaghar). Similar in theme to Visconti’s great The Leopard but, for me anyway, the execution is even more emotionally resonant because the scope is less epic and more personal.

The land baron who is just unwilling to acknowledge let alone embrace the looming societal and environmental changes that were on the horizon in the late 1920s/late 1930s East India is superbly portrayed by Chhabi Biswas who is in nearly every shot of the movie. The character is hubristic, narcissistic, and pathetic, yet Ray and Biswas manage to still evoke so much empathy and conflicted feelings in the viewer.

This was my first Ray film and the technique is absolutely phenomenal, there is some fabulously applause worthy cinematography and foreshadowing throughout and when the movie segues into its three varied musical interludes, it does not feel at all like the musical numbers in Hollywood or Bollywood musicals, but an organic extension of and contribution to the mood and narrative already constructed.

My favourite of these musical interludes was the second one, more so for how it played in the narrative and character development as Biswas’ character’s mind is for once not on his beloved music but the fate of his wife and son. This sequence features some of the best use of subjective POV technique in any film, I particularly loved the way the singer’s voice sounds like a wailing cry for help towards the end of the musical interlude as Biswas’ character gets up to leave having realised the potential fate of his wife and son.

A perfect 10.

Criterion’s blu is from a somewhat compromised source with a fair bit of blooming in the whites, some minor but noticeable image instability and the occasional light damage. But for an Indian film, most of which have very poorly cared for original materials, it is a fantastic presentation and frequently looks jaw dropping. The audio is also surprisingly pretty good if a little thin.

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