The Music Room SF International Film Festival

by Pouria Yazdi on May 8, 2010

Of all the movies playing at the San Francisco International Film Festival Jalsaghar (The Music Room) was what I wanted to see most.

An Indian film from 1958 that has been recently restored is not your usual popcorn popping movie. It’s more of a privilege to see and everything about my experience was just that.

The film was shown in The Castro Theater, which on its own is breathtaking enough. After some pomp and circumstance introducing the film (and about a billion plugs for American Express), the crackling of the speakers started.

The Music Room focuses on landlord Biswambhar Roy played by Chhabi Biswas. You can tell immediately that this film is about regrets, life passing you by, and economic status. Roy is living in a dilapidated residence with equally dilapidated servants. They seem to move cautiously around him and try to cheer him up to no avail.

The film focuses on the follies of being stuck to the past while the present is leaving you behind. Roy clings to the idea of his patriarchal history to a ruinous end.

What does this have to do with music you say? Well one of his many bad habits is his love for music. Roy even passes this time-wasting hobby on to his son. Roy’s favorite past-time is getting drunk and inviting friends and musicians over to play in his palatial music room. These scenes are awesome.

You get to see musicians playing Hindustani classical music from different parts of an India that has long passed. These scenes bring the music to the front of the viewer’s attention while the film sort of gets put on pause. While these scenes may be a little distracting they are in and of themselves something to be appreciated. Almost like a time capsule of Hindustani music.

I am by no means a scholar of music, let alone Hindustani ragas, so I can’t tell you much. What I can tell you is that if you appreciate tracing music back to its various intertwined roots, seeing a movie like The Music Room will make you happy.

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