JALSAGHAR (1958) [Feature]

India (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.

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