Rightwing Film Geek

I wish I were Indian

THE MUSIC ROOM (Satyajit Ray, India, 1958, 9)

I don’t know if Satyajit Ray was actually an apologist for monarchy / aristocracy; what I know of his biography and the Indian political environment of his lifetime suggests not. Nevertheless, if I were asked to name the film most sympathetic to aristocracy ever made, THE MUSIC ROOM would probably be it; certainly it’s on the short list with the likes of THE LEOPARD, THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, DEATH IN VENICE (significantly, all four of these films are to-some-extent-tragedies about an aristocracy’s death). Indeed, THE MUSIC ROOM would almost certainly rank among my all-time favorite films if it weren’t for one big honking caveat, and even that is a weakness not of Ray’s film but of myself, which I allude to in this post’s title and will detail later.

THE MUSIC ROOM tells the story of the decline of landed aristocrat Biswambhar Roy, a man whose sole passion is music, even above his land (which the river is threatening, to his uninterest) and his family (one of the few intimate family scenes shows him teaching music to his son). His principal foil is an arriviste neighbor merchant named Ganguly for whom he has nothing but contempt, calling him “the son of a money-lender.” But this man tries to worm his way into the lord’s graces as an equal based on his increasing wealth and “my interest in music too.” (The poor basically don’t exist in THE MUSIC ROOM, shown only as the recipients of alms, first from Roy then from Ganguly.)

It’s impossible and in a sense pointless to ask about this class conflict, “which of the two men and/or the virtues and vices they represent does Ray ‘side with’.” But two questions are meaningful to ask — (1) “whose point-of-view, if anyone’s, does Ray privilege”; and (2) “does, and to what extent, the film contain ‘the aristocratic critique of the bourgeoisie’ and/or ‘the bourgeois critique of the aristocracy.’? And at that level, it’s hardly even a contest.

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December 1, 2011 Posted by | Satyajit Ray | 2 Comments