Jalsaghar (The Music Room) (1958) is almost akin to the tale of a fading movie star except this one hits closer because of the lack of excess and his desires. He holds on to his stature in Music if not in wealth and that makes him far more sympathizing than someone just holding on to glamour and fame. Right from the beginning, you can feel the world around the narrator to be nearly desolate. As far as the eyes go there isn’t a single structure to be seen apart from the neighboring house. You realize how little there is to do in his big palace apart from investing yourself in Music.
Despite the slow buildup to the final act, every scene and character interaction holds a purpose. With dialogue so precise, characters never talk any more than they need to while also seeming like real people. Everyone has a place in the story, and no one feels like a plot device. It feels good to see character work like this in a film considering how exposition-heavy movies have become, often having disposable characters. Obviously, more complex narratives can demand that. But ironically, Jalsaghar feels like a breath of fresh air and something I desperately look for in good character dramas.
The performance of Chabbi Biswas as the lead is sublime. Consistent with the tone of the movie, it is almost always extremely subtle and nuanced. His emotions on screen are just a joy to watch and thoroughly inspiring. The film shifts gears over time and that changes his performance. His smile, smirk, and frowns that start off restrained gradually become bolder. Without spoiling much, we soon get to see the other side of the same coin and it never feels incoherent.
Ray’s Direction along with Subrata Mitra’s Cinematography is so textbook that it feels wrong to try to fault it. The camera is always exactly where it belongs for that respective shot, taking slow but long takes letting the viewer immerse themselves in the world. Every frame is positioned perfectly with no space being wasted or any element taking too much space. Visual cues using the environments often describe the emotional state of the character or the situation and those frames are hauntingly beautiful. Indian classical music as the score, although not my favorite, is both soothing and exciting and has inclined me more towards the genre.
A beautiful tale about a man’s obsession with his position in society; not just in wealth but as a connoisseur of Music, Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar (The Music Room) is crafted with meticulous detail and precision in every single aspect. It is a film that is perfect for what it is, even if it isn’t your cup of tea.
Revisit the set and location of the film, here.