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JALSAGHAR

India, 1958 (MIFF 1961, Programme 3)

Director: Satyajit Ray

Jalsaghar is one of the few films made by Salyafit Ray. apart from the great Bengali trilogy about the life of the boy Apu. It leisurely and patientty unfolds Ihe story of the decline of the last member of a once mighty Indian noble family, revealing the man's character by quiet, ever-acute observation. We are shown all the weaknesses of the man: his vanity. his self-deception, his total inability to adjust or adapt to any kind of life other rhan that to which he has been accustomed yet we are also shown, with compassion and wisdom, a fellow human being whom we can understand, forgive, and with whom we can identify ourselves

First we are shown the Iined, worn, slightly selfish face of this man; then the camera pulls back to reveal the setting: a decrepit mansion stranded in the middle of an arid semi-desert and bounded by a sea. Its owner is approaching the threat of final bankruptcy with calm disdain and the stubborn pride that comes from a long family tradition. Now that his son and wife are dead, his only pleasure is lo surround himself with the finest dancers and musicians of the time, and his. soirees not only serve to testify to the perfection of his taste, but act as a protest against a world given over to commerce and greed. The portrait of this man is built up from a series of small incidents, moments of observation: we see him roaming over his declining estate, remembering and reminiscing; then the camera discreetly creeps up on him as he sits on the verandah, listening to his beloved music and wincing as the outside world, with its trains, cars and generators, intrudes into his privacy. Ray's use of music is far removed from the customary Indian score — here everything has a classical severity. In the film's finest scene, the old man relinquishes his last rupees to pay for a famous dancer; the dance itself is outstandingly beautiful and then as the camera passes to the nobleman, reclining on his cushion and sucking his pipe, the combination of music and aesthetic enjoyment serves as an apotheosis of his whole life.

Jalsaghar acts as a kind of bridge between the trilogy, with its universal appeal, and the more enclosed Indian cinema from which Ray revolted. In some ways it remains his most Indian film: the comparative stillness of certain scenes are demanding for European audiences and several of the performances employ the over-emphasis of the normal Indian film. But the director manages to create the feeling of time, life passing; his film has the quality and complexity usually reserved for rhe novel, while keeping all the visual beauty inherent in any great motion picture.

See also...

WORLD OF APU

The third part of the Bengali saga continues the story of Apu, now a young man living in Calcutta and dreaming of a literary career and a positive future. An old friend invites him to a village ... More »

WORLD OF APU

So much has already been written about Pather Panchali and Aparajito that Ray's trilogy was destined for classic status even before the release of the third instalment, and the various influences ... More »

THE MUSIC ROOM

This film was made between the second and third parts of the Apu trilogy. Where the trilogy shows the gradual breaking up of the simple traditional family life and religion, and their replacement by ... More »

TWO DAUGHTERS

Made to celebrate the centenary of Rabindranath Tagore, "Two Daughters" is based on a duo of his short stories, "The Postmaster and "Samapti". The director, Satyajit Ray, has described them as ... More »

DISTANT THUNDER

This is Satyajit Ray's second film in colour, and the Grand Prize winner at the Berlin Festival. The film is set in 1942, and its subject is the impact of war on an isolated Bengali village. ... The ... More »

MAHANAGAR

Turning his back on the nostalgic past, on the lyricism of his earlier films. Satyajit Ray has produced a completely realistic contemporary masterpiece. Its theme is the conflict between the old and ... More »

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