Tuesday, June 7, 2011
The Music Room/Jalsaghar
I sometimes put TV on in the background when I write, and I randomly put on some really horrible show - "Finding Bigfoot", which is about a group of really stupid "professional" hunters of "bigfoots." This is the worst. Some stoned looking guy just stared into the camera and said, "I think that was a real 'squatch!". I was hoping it would be one of those so-bad-that-it's-good sort of things, but honestly it's just so bad. So, so bad. Is it a joke? Ugh.
Aside from this, I did actually watch something good today. I watched The Music Room, directed by Satyajit Ray in 1958. I was really excited to see this because I really liked the Apu Trilogy that he directed. I was pretty much just familiar with the Bollywood style of Indian films until I saw that trilogy, and it was really mind-blowing. The films were really quiet and focused on normal, everyday sort of people - sort of like French New Wave. It's a great style, and I enjoyed seeing more of it. It's really cool when you can see films like this that can change your perceptions of culture in another country, if that makes any sense. For me, they really open my mind to a style of film that runs along side of Bollywood, and a style that I really enjoy.
The movie is sad, but full of beautiful imagery, music, and dance. Not music and dance in a Bollywood way, but actual performances that we watch as the characters watch them. It's very traditional, and really a unique experience. The film is about Huzur Biswambhar Roy, a landlord, who suffers a horrible family tragedy mid-way through the film. He is completely distraught. He smokes hookah and lays around in a daze. "What month is it?" he asks as the film opens. He spends his money flaunting his music room, which is full of beautiful paintings, mirrors, carpets, and chandeliers. Here, we get to see a lot of wonderful and fascinating musical performances. He pawns his wife's jewelry to pay for performers, and they seem to be the only thing that can give him happiness.
I loved the scenes of the concerts held in the music room. They held a lot of power - it was really interesting to hear and see the music, but they were also full of symbols. Some of them reflected impending doom, or the mental state of Huzur. I personally really liked hearing the music and watching the performances. I've honestly never really seen anything like it, and I really valued the time I got to spend watching something new. There aren't many movies where you are treated to performances like this, and I liked that aspect of it as well. I loved the contrast of the performers and the room they were in - the emotional music, but the hollow wealth around them. It was just so fascinating, and I really loved the sensory experience of watching this film.
Ebert points out that even though Huzur is wealthy, the film is not ornate or anything like that. It's very stark and minimalistic, compared to a lot of Indian films that we might be more familiar with. I think it's so interesting that he made a film that is rich in music but so different from Bollywood cinema. It lacked the melodrama, the dance numbers, the colors and decoration that we are used to seeing. Here, there are big expanses of nothingness. The music room is beautiful, but there are never too many ornate things in one shot. Like I said, I just really liked being able to see this other side of Indian cinema.
I'm pretty unfamiliar with Indian cinema - I've seen some bad Bollywood films and some good ones, but this style was so new to me, both in this film and the Apu Trilogy. I never really knew that it existed, as stupid as that sounds. I also really loved the music in this movie. It's different, but I found it really beautiful and loved being able to see something that I never saw before. This is such a delicate and restrained film, and I was really engrossed in the story of Huzur. I felt ill when tragedy struck him, even though I sort of knew it was coming. Ray's movies are really so unique and unlike anything else that I've seen, and I've really enjoyed watching them for this project. I hope that sometime you check this film out, it's so great. I want to write more about it, but I feel like I'd just be repeating myself. Let me know if you give this wonderful and special film a chance!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on The Music Room
Buy it on Amazon