(Original Title: Jalsaghar)
Taking place almost entirely inside a mansion and the open spaces around it, The Music Room contains grand swells of passion and drama within gestures and glances as small-scale as its setting.
Its storytelling is of a simple, almost fable-like nature; the characters and their conflict is basic, but of the kind that gives the general, wider feel some epics require. On one hand we have Lord Roy, somewhat like Kane in his Xanadu years, overlooking a slowly crumbling estate with a hookah pipe in his hand. He is content to relax atop the roof of his mansion until he hears sounds of advancement—a ceremony with music, an electric machine—from the house of his neighbor, Mahin the moneylender. Roy’s goal throughout the film will be to outdo Mahin in power and prestige, while Mahin will attempt to do the same in less overt ways, but for more personal reasons: within their competition is the theme of an old generation versus the new; a nobleman who has inherited his status against a self-made man with no pedigree, as Mahin describes himself.
This conflict plays out in the site of Roy’s great pleasure: his music room. Time after time, Roy hires musicians and dancers to entertain him and his guests—often the same ones Mahin also recently employed. In this way, the simple thread of their push and pull gets a nice bit of padding with extended sequences of dancing and singing that acquire their own entertainment value. The unspoken contest comes out into the clear at the end of each performance: who will—or can—give more gifts? Roy, like a gambler who knowingly takes a plunge into certain doom, is fascinating to watch: down to his last valuables, to the last box of family jewels, he would give it all away in a second just to show the moneylender that he, his family and their legacy still hold sway.
A heady mix of symbols and mystery is present alongside the clearer dramatic themes. A chandelier hangs inRoy’s music room; it seems to cast an ominous tone at his celebratory moments. Perhaps it is a harbinger of doom, or destiny—a drowning spider that comes from it certainly makes a grim foreshadowing, and one of the film’s most powerful moments. And elsewhere, there are other subtle touches: look for when Roy uprights a small model boat just after his wife and child have left on a trip. It is as if the film—despite its main focus on the social contest between two archetypal men—still finds time to whisper, “I do believe in spooks”, as it traces the influence of fate across their lives.
It is preoccupied with both sides: the stark simplicity of man’s differences and the mysterious, uncontrollable forces of his world. In this film, nature does not respect the heritage of man; this last theme is less obvious but still present. Floods claim Roy’s land, a tragedy comes from a storm, and in the end the hot ground outside his home can dry royal blood as readily as anyone else’s.
In contrast to many modern blockbusters, which drop a few philosophical questions and lose track of them in the fighting that ensues, The Music Room muses over each of its themes in turn while giving us the pleasure of attending a few musical performances on the side. It lacks the Cinemascope vision of epic landscapes, massive crowds and visionary heroes, but is an epic film all the same.