TWO INDIAN CLASSICS

The Music Room     Satyajit Ray     1958

The Music Room begins with a long and slow dolly towards what the viewer eventually grasps is an enormous and splendid chandelier.  It makes a sublime opening for a film which will explore quietly and slowly the mind and heart of a once wealthy landowner whom we grudgingly respect and perhaps eventually identify with.  The fact that you might not understand or appreciate India’s music will be no drawback to being drawn into and moved by the tale of a man who has frittered away his fortune and his standing through throwing expensive parties laced with expensive concerts in the music room of his home.  In middle age he finds that life has passed him by  —  no:  that he has allowed life to pass him by, making the realization twice as painful.

As _ the music lover Chhabi Biswas is excellent.  As his newly rich, absolutely annoying neighbor, Gangapada Basu is very good.  And as his personal servant and his steward, respectively, Kail Sarkar and Tulsi Lahiri are superb.

Music by Ravi Shankar.

TCM shows a fine print of The Music Room which is also available from amazon.

Pather Panchali     Satyajit Ray     1955

Pather Panchali (The Song of the Little Road) is documentary ficiton, a fictional documenatry.  When he made this, his first film, Satyajit Ray had seen the works of Flaherty and De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves and had worked on Renoir’s The River.  Ray is quoted in Sadoul as saying he wanted as little dramatization as possible.  And yet the exposition and the introduction of characters are skillfully, quietly done.

A boy and his older sister grow up in a Bengali village in a poor family in which the father is a would-be writer and the mother a developing shrew.  (The boy Apu, Subir Bannerjee; his sister Durga, Ruki Bannerjee Das Gupta; the mother, Karuna Bannerjee; the father, Kanu Bannerjee.)  I have read that Subir Bannerjee proved an acting problem and that his performance is a directorial/editorial achievement.  His face, however, in repose is captivating.  Ruki Bannerjee as his sister is a fine study in suppressed but undefeatable emotion.

It is a story in which very little seems to happen, and yet somehow everything does.  All life does.  Human emotional heights are reached, assisted by the music of Ravi Shankar which at times displaces the mouthed words of the players.  Mood and pace are enhanced by the unobtrusive but magical photography of Subarata Mitra.

THE BALANCE OF THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

The other member of the village household is Auntie (Chunibala Devi), who is eventually driven out by the mother to die alone in the nearby tropical woods.  While we have her she is a heartrending delight:  enjoying the stolen fruit that Durga smuggles to her; becoming suddenly authoritative  when a neighbor is abusing Durga and her mother; expressing concern and care for the mother who has just been very harsh to her; delighting the children with an artful, scary telling of a ghost story; and singing a song about a final crossing of a final river.

FIVE HIGHLIGHTS

1)  The coming to the village of the vendor of sweets, one of the film’s most beautifully photographed sequences.

2)  Apu’s and Durga’s viewing of the passing train, a sequence surpassed, actually, by the silence before the arrival of the train as brother and sister wait in the tall, feathery, fern-like grasses.

3)  The death of Durga.

4)  The father’s learning of her death on his return from his long journey with a new sari for her.

5)  The film’s end as the family prepares to leave the village in hope of a better life in Benares.  Apu accidentally finds hidden the necklace which the difficult neighbor aand her daughter had accused Durga of stealing.  Lying on the floor at Apu’s feet, the necklae speaks for Durga’s simple wants and dreams  —  and perhaps those of all the family.

Dilys Powell, quoted in Halliwell:  “It has been left to the Indian cinema to give us a picture of a childhood which preserves under the shadow of experience not only its innoence but its gaiety.”

For Clevelanders and other northeast Ohioans:  This latter part of August, John Ewing is showing Pather Panchali and Aparajito at the new CIA Cleveland Cinematheque.  Aparajito is Satyajit Ray’s second film in the trilogy about Apu.  Check the Cinematheque website for days and times.

TCM CALENDAR:  Tomorrow, August 15 at 11:15 AM (Eastern), Turner Classic Movies will show Captured! (1933)  starring Leslie Howard.  Appearing with him are Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Paul Lukas.

NEXT FRIDAY POST August 21

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

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