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aka The Music Room 1958 100’ b&w Bengali d/p/sc Satyajit Ray pc Aurora Film Co. st Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay’s stories Raibari and Jalsaghar c Subrata Mitra m Ustad Vilayat Khan lp Chhabi Biswas, Padmadevi, Pinaki Sengupta, Gangapada Basu, Tulsi Lahiri, Kali Sarkar, Waheed Khan, Roshan Kumari, Bismillah Khan

Ray’s critique of decadent colonial feudalism, shot on the property of a zamindar at Nimtita near the river Padma on the (current) border between India and Bangladesh (by coincidence the very family on which novelist Bannerjee had based his fiction). The ageing Bishwambar Roy (Biswas) pawns the family jewels to keep up with the opulence of his ancestors and with his rich upstart neighbour Mahim Ganguly (Basu). Roy’s reputation is based on the spectacular concerts of classical music and dance he once hosted, featuring Lucknow’s great Kathak dancers and thumri singers, one of which is shown in flashback. Another concert, amid ominous thunder and lightning, is followed by news of the death of his wife and son. He withdraws into complete seclusion, only to resurface when his neighbour invites him yet again, and hosts his final show explicitly to upstage Ganguly’s. Eventually he rides off on his horse, a shadow of his former grandeur, and dies by the hull of an upturned boat. Ray’s nostalgic portrayal of the end of an era that saw feudal oppression but also sustained India’s classical arts is often compared to Guru Dutt’s film on the same theme, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962), both portraying the feudal elite in sensual terms, reclining amid silk cushions, smoking hookahs and drinking, and because both directors rely on straightforwardly melodramatic idioms. Jalsaghar is heavy on symbols: shots of rain announcing death, an insect trapped in a glass, a decaying palace, the neighbour’s trucks kicking up dust and obscuring Roy’s view of his elephant grazing in the distance, the upturned boat at the end of the patriarch’s life. Unlike the rest of the film, which was shot on location, the key locale of the music room was created on sets by Bansi Chandragupta. Ray included a concert by Begum Akhtar, India’s greatest 20th C. ghazal singer. Other featured artists were shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan, singer Waheed Khan and dancer Roshan Kumari. The film boasts Chhabi Biswas’s best- known screen performance.