Satyajit Ray | Jalsaghar / The Music Room | Mahapurush / The Holy Man | Joi Baba Felunath / The Elephant God

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Satyajit Ray

Satyajit Ray is one of the world's major filmmakers. Ray came from a family of Bengali intellectuals; the family had a close association with that of the famed Bengali novelist Rabindranath Tagore.

Ray was vastly multi-talented. He was a painter, novelist and composer as well as being a prolific filmmaker.

Jalsaghar / The Music Room


Much of the imagery in Jalsaghar (1957) deals with glass. There are chandeliers, drinking glasses, mirrors. All three of these converge in the music room, especially during concerts. Their great beauty allows Ray to create visual images as complex and as beautiful as the music that is playing during the concerts.

The glass imagery in the film anticipates J.G. Ballard's novel The Crystal World (1964 - 1966). In Ballard's book, the crystallization represents the condensation of time into space: the crystals were a representation of time in visual and spatial terms. Similarly, in Ray's films the glass represents a visual expression of a temporal art, music. In both works, the glass represents something abstract made physical. The glass in Ray's film also strongly express the feelings of the characters in visual terms.


Fluids in the film tend to be bad: The hero gives two climactic speeches in the film: half way through, he talks of flooding; at the end he talks about blood.


Ray's characters like to sit on roofs. This allows him to build up unusual geometries of the roofs in his compositions. It also allows for combining great vistas with domestic settings. The domestic arrangements can suggest his protagonists' character; the vistas show the world, and their reaction to it.

Roofs play a major role in both Jalsaghar and The World of Apu (1960).


Ray likes to show large landscapes in his films. Often we see people traveling in them: small figures moving down detailed paths in the large expanse of territory. The camera does not travel along with the characters; instead it observes them from afar. These landscapes help evoke the world in which the characters live.

The landscapes often have a line of water in them: a canal, a sea shore. Other lines, such as roads or rail road tracks often go through them. They tend to be very flat, very open and uncovered by vegetation or obstructions, and receding to a distant horizon.

There is often a sense of wistfulness about these landscapes: they represent a world which the characters wish to explore, but cannot. In Pather Panchali, the little girl is curious about the great world, but is too young and poor to explore it. In Jalsaghar, the aristocratic hero is too consumed by pride to leave his feudal estate.

Similarity to The Chess Players

Jalsaghar resembles in theme Ray's later classic The Chess Players (1977). Both films deal with people of position in society who do nothing. They prefer to be sunk in apathy rather than contribute to society, or to execute their responsibilities. In The Chess Players, this theme is explicitly political: the Indians do nothing while the British Empire swallows up India, without a struggle. In Jalsaghar, the hero ignores the modern world. He prizes such traditional aristocratic symbols as horses, while his money lender rival is pioneering cars. While this theme is not overtly political as in The Chess Players, it does involve the hero ignoring the momentous events of history around him. It is not just well to do characters in Ray who neglect their responsibilities; the fathers in Pather Panchali and Apu Sansar also neglect their families. In world literature, the writer associated with the theme of apathetic upper middle class people who fail to take constructive action is associated with Anton Chekhov.

There are other thematic similarities. Both films have heroes who rebuff their wives. These women attempt to influence their husbands to good, but who fail to rouse them out of their apathy.

Both are also among the few Ray films that feature upper class characters, aristocrats who live in palaces.

Jalsaghar also has structural similarities to The Chess Players. Both films have major musical numbers integrated into their plots, involving Indian classical dance and music. In The Chess Players, this involves a brilliant sequence starring a female dancer; the third and climactic concert in Jalsaghar also features a woman dancing.

The characters in both films have an obsessive interest in some field: music in Jalsaghar, chess in The Chess Players. Both of these are abstract subjects, worlds of pure idea that have no apparent relation with the world outside themselves. In both films, these subjects are the basis of social relationships: the two chess players are best friends. In Jalsaghar, music is the shared passion of the father and his little boy, in one of the most touching scenes of the film.

Mahapurush / The Holy Man

Mahapurush (1965) is a comedy satire film about a phony guru. This was not a mystery, but it seems to come out of the same side of Ray as the Feluda detective works. We have: This movie is not one of Ray's better films, but it did have a cheering effect on me - not to be sneezed at!

Joi Baba Felunath / The Elephant God

Joi Baba Felunath (1979) is a detective movie, about Satyajit Ray's series detective Feluda. Ray made two films about Feluda; Joi Baba Felunath is the second.

Feluda is played on screen by Ray favorite Soumitra Chatterji.

Ray wrote four volumes of detective stories about Feluda, known as the Bengali Sherlock Holmes. The final collection, Feluda's Last Case is full of pleasant characters, social depictions of daily life, and exotic descriptions of India: each one is set in a different Indian tourist destination, with lots of local color and travel writing. But they are often weak as detective story plots, and are slow moving (not a surprise for Ray, who was never a mad dasher). The best is "Trouble in Gangtok" (1970), which is set in Sikkim, where Ray made a documentary the next year.

Joi Baba Felunath is available on DVD. The subtitles are messed up on the DVD I saw, but once I got beyond this, the film is enjoyable.

I was glad I'd read some Feluda prose stories before seeing this, because the detective characters like Feluda seem much more clearly defined in the paper tales.

Ray starts soaring when he gets up on the roof of a house, and starts making panoramas, as he did in Jalsaghar. The interiors that follow also show his eye.

The tourist setting here is Benares, scene of Ray's wonderful Arapajito, and Ray gets in some nice location filming.