The Music Room (Blu-ray)
Directed by Satyajit Ray
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 99 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 Bengali/English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: July 19, 2011
Review Date: July 13, 2011
Struggling against societal change while the world passes one by is a frequent movie theme, but that makes it no less effective in the hands of director Satyajit Ray with his masterful The Music Room. In his fourth venture behind the camera, Ray keeps everything rather simple and basic here, and the effect is frankly devastating, a melancholy look at a man’s life crumbling apart before his eyes. What he does as a defiant gesture to the encroaching world of change will likely haunt the viewer for days after viewing the movie. Be prepared, however, for some lengthy musical passages as befit the subject matter of the story.
The last in his line of feudal lords, Biswambhar Roy (Chhabi Biswas) has mortgaged all of his family’s jewels and antiquities in order to maintain his lavish lifestyle. He frequently indulges in his one great passion: presentations of classic Bengal music for his friends and neighbors in live performances held in his elaborately decorated music room even though his wife (Padma Devi) is fearful that the family money is being wasted on these performances. His nouveau riche neighbor Ganguli (Gangapada Basu) makes no bones about flaunting his latest acquisitions (an electric generator, a motorized vehicle), much to Roy’s disgust, but after he suffers a terrible tragedy during a cyclone at sea, Roy loses interest even in living, and with money running out, he has some serious decisions to make about his future.
Ray based his screenplay on the story “Jalsaghar” with some changes to the family and their inevitable tragedy but retaining the basic story. In making the film, however, he made sure to surfeit it with the music and dance that acts almost as a drug to the character of Roy. For us Westerners, these segments may seem a trifle overextended since the music is so far removed from our own local concepts of melody, singing, and rhythm. But there is no denying that the climactic dance performed by Krishnabai (Roshan Kumari) brings the house down and is made even more poignant by what comes immediately after. Ray uses pans and zooms with a gentility that befits the slight story and small cast of main characters. An early morning pan across the front of the decaying mansion Roy lives in is especially striking, and a later slow pan around the room of the title shows us the disrepair and neglect the room has suffered after the family tragedy, stunning in its imagery getting the point of Roy’s hopelessness across without a single word of dialogue. The emphasis on the transitional state of Indian affairs was a common theme for Ray in the first decade or so of his career, but this film certainly drives home the theme of change or die about as well as anything he ever made.
Chhabi Biswas is almost the whole show as the spoiled, self-satisfied Roy, a character who grows in stature and poignancy as the film runs. Gangapada Basu as the rival neighbor with money to burn displays his smugness and superior airs to great effect. As the long-suffering servant who wants only the best for his master, Kali Sarkar is very effective. In a few brief scenes, Pinaki Sengupta as Roy’s son and Padma Devi as his wife are both welcome additions to the cast. In addition to the powerful dancing of Roshan Kumari, Sardar Akhtar and Salamat Ali Khan spend quite a few minutes in the spotlight singing and/or strumming the sitar.
The film is framed at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. The film is among the sharpest black and white features ever presented by Criterion, and you’ll notice much stunning detail in close-ups and medium shots, but time has not been kind to the film with a range of slight scratches and dust specks which come and go throughout particularly in outdoor footage. White levels are quite impressive, but black levels are not, and shadow detail is erratic as a result. The white subtitles should prove no problem to the average viewer. The film has been divided into 18 chapters.
The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix has likewise not escaped the ravages of time. There is still hiss present which raises or lowers in volume throughout the presentation, and sometimes there is a bit of light crackle present, too. The upper end is occasionally rather shrill, and there is no low end to speak of, so the lengthy music passages here don’t sport great fidelity. Dialogue appears to be a combination of ADR-produced and direct recording.
“For the Love of The Music Room” is a 2011 video critique by Ray biographer Andrew Robinson. He discusses Ray’s techniques here and in other films and mentions changes from the story to the film which he made. This 17 ½-minute piece is presented in 1080p.
Actress Mira Nair discusses Ray in general and The Music Room in particular in this 15 ¾-minute featurette presented in 1080p.
A roundtable of French critics interview Satyajit Ray in excerpts from a French television program which aired in 1981. The 10 ½-minute piece is in 1080i.
Satyajit Ray is a 1984 feature documentary on the life and films of Satyajit Ray, directed by Shyam Benegal. It features much interview footage with the writer-director and excerpts from many of his movies. We also see the director rehearsing his actors, camera blocking, and shooting a scene from his then-current movie The Home and the World. This runs 131 minutes in 1080i.
The enclosed 37-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, a dense selection of stills and behind-the-scenes shots, an appreciative essay on the movie and its director by critic Philip Kemp, and Ray’s own comments on the film’s location and on the music used in the movie in two separate essays.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4/5 (not an average)
A haunting reflection on change and the stubborn resistance of one man who rails against it, Satyajit Ray’s The Music Room is a powerful cinematic piece. Though age in some ways hampers the disc from achieveing maximum effectiveness, there is never any question of the glorious sharpness that awaits the viewer of the film, and Criterion has done its usual superb job of providing interesting extras to heighten the movie-watching experience. Recommended!