Satyajit Ray became internationally acclaimed with his first two features, Pather Panchali and Aparajito, which owed much to the traditions of documentary, poetic realism and the Italian Neo-realists. His fourth feature, The Music Room (1959), marks a significant and important step in his career. Following the critical and popular failure of the comedy The Philosopher’s Stone, The Music Room showed the world that Ray had great range and talent beyond the naturalism of his first films. Ray takes a classical approach, informed by the masters on international cinema that he revered, for this drama set in the fading decadence of old-world feudal life of the 1920. Pather Panchali is a work of social observation with a director in sympathy with the plight of the characters. The Music Room offers a more complicated attitude toward its main character and to the changing world in which he lives. His portrait of the aristocracy, with its wealth and rituals and sense of social superiority and entitlement, increasing impotent and irrelevant in an India moving toward modernity, was his most accomplished film up that time and many critics still hold it as the director’s masterpiece.
Chhabi Biswas, a popular and respected actor of his day, plays Biswambhar Roy, once a powerful feudal lord, or zamindar, now a threadbare remnant of the old world. The opening scenes present him alone in his crumbling palace, sucking on his hookah like a pacifier, looking out over the ruins of his one mighty lands as the modern world passes him by. The sounds of a concert from a neighbor’s estate sends him back to a time when his wife and son lived and he spent lavishly on recitals and celebrations. His great love is music and he considers himself a connoisseur and a patron of the arts, indulging in his hobby to the neglect of his fortune and his lands, which are slowly being swallowed up by the river. It’s also a matter of social currency and vanity. To be a lover of music is not enough. Roy must be seen to be a true connoisseur with a public show of patronage and a subtle mastery of the art of presenting a master artist in his private music room.