A Film Review



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This is an example of an A+ review
It was submitted to a different course and is reproduced here with the authorization of the
author. It is based on the Indian film The Music Room (Satyajit Roy, 1958), the article
“Tarasankar Bandyopadhyay’s Caitālī Ghūrṇi and The Dystopia of Hunger” by Sukla
Chatterjee, and course lectures.
Satyajit Roy’s Bengal-gothic feature film The Music Room is justly celebrated as a major
achievement, managing as it does to conjure up a powerful aesthetic vision through a masterly
deployment of cinematographic technique while at the same time providing through that means
rich but layered historical and social commentary.
The Music Room tells the story of the decline of Biswambhar Roy, a zamindar landowner in
early 20th Century Bengal. Biswambhar is an aesthete, and as the family fortune dwindles,
Biswambhar spends all his remaining money in hosting lavish music concerts, a startling decision
catalyzed midway through the film by the devastating loss of his wife and young son.
Biswambhar’s decadence is inversely mirrored by the ascent of Mahim Ganguly, a low-caste and
yet hardworking and energetic money-lender.
What is likely to strike the viewer at first is the breathtakingly clairvoyant visual language
of the film. Eschewing the glossy finish of studio filming ubiquitous in the 1950s, the film relishes
the vibrant textures of the dilapidated zamindari mansion and its environs, grit and all: with
poignant symbolism, the decaying but unabashedly opulent decor of the interior spaces of the
mansion—frayed but precious rugs, cracked tiles, tarnished but glorious plasterwork—contrasts
with the austere and dusty, but also sunlit and living riverine setting of the languishing manor.
These visual choices bring The Music Room much closer to the aesthetic preferences of our own
days than many films of the period.
The second important aesthetic focus of the film is the beauty and sophistication of Indian
classical music, showcased through several long and lovingly shot music scenes. The music,
however, intoxicatingly beautiful and intricate though it certainly is, remains throughout the film
quite literally a means of evasion from, rather than of engagement with reality and the world.
The Music Room, released in 1958, should be understood in the context of the immediate
aftermath of Indian independence in 1948, and a moment in which a now self-governing India was
wondering about its own path towards modernity after two centuries of colonial British rule.
Aristocrats like Biswambhar, with their ludicrous sense of entitlement, are clearly not compatible
with modernity, and yet The Music Room does not simply demonize the life and concerns of the
zamindar class, but seeks to probe it, and to understand it in the broader context of Indian society.
The film is based on a short story by Bengali writer Tarasankar Bandyopadhyay (1989–
1971). It is interesting to see that most of the work of the filmmaker, Satyajit Roy, and of
Bandyopadhyay deal mostly with the downtrodden, rather than with the elite.
As all masterpieces, The Music Room is full of areas of deliberate ambiguity, or rather of a
layered vision of the world that forces the spectator to see things not in terms of black and white,
but rather in a vast mosaic of grays. Biswambhar can be seen as the pathetic last scion of a
parasitical aristocracy, whose sense of entitlement constitutes a major obstacle to modernity; yet,
Biswambhar’s love and commitment for the precious legacy of Indian classical music is complete,
total, and uncompromising. Mahim Ganguly, on the other hand, is shown as a banal man with no
time and no interest for anything but business, and yet he is a self-made man who has managed to
ascend the social scale through the sheer force of hard work and determination. The ultimate
question remains for the spectator to ponder: is humanity better off under the control of the prince
or of the banker? One? The other? Neither?
The final commentary on the film and its legacy is provided by the real world: the Nimtita
Rajbari mansion where the film was shot is now an abandoned building, overgrown by the lush
vegetation of Bengal, but still standing as a melancholy testament to the once all-powerful
landowning class of India. For more information on A Film Review visit this: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/review
A Film Review

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