Jalsaghar is set in the Bengal of1930s. The plot of the film narrates tale of Biswambhar Roy as the last of the affluent patriarchs who clings on to his sophisticated tastes even as his estate is taken away from him. All that is left with him are his two servants, a horse, an elephant, and the dilapidated palace. A scene from Jalsaghar shows Biswambhar Roy relaxing on the terrace of his palace, smoking a hookah. He asks his servant about the month and is shocked at the loud music that is played on the occasion of Upanayana of the neighbor's son. He is reminded of his own son's Upanayana ceremony.
As he remembers the ceremony the audiences are transported to back in time when Biswambhar Roy was in the best of his times. A great music concert has taken place in his magnificent music room, 'jalsaghar'. All the guests are served drinks while they are enjoying the classical performance by a female singer. Roy later tells his wife that he can even spend his last penny to organise such programmes to listen to such music.
A similar concert is organised on a stormy night. His son and wife are supposed to return from her mother's place to join him. This time the concert has been arranged to spite his neighbour. The restless river makes him worried. A model boat is seen to tumble and fall due to the wind. This action reminds Biswambhar Roy of the possible danger that threatens his family. Meanwhile news arrives to confirm his wildest fears that his son and wife are dead.
The zamindar goes in to depression. On the other hand he is also unable to keep pace with the changing times. According to Satyajit Ray Jalsaghar deals with "a music loving Zamindar (landlord) who refuses to change with the times and thereby meets his comeuppance." Slowly he turns into a loner. He also closes the 'jalsaghar' (music room).
Jalsaghar moves back to the present times. The sound of music coming from his nouveau rich neighbor's house leads the aristocrat to organise one last grand music concert. He could not overcome the temptation of showcasing his own superior tastes to the rest of the world. To satisfy his vain pride he wastes all his resources to organise a grand concert. The music room is opened once again and redecorated with grandeur to organise the concert. He enjoys the music and later raises a toast to his ancestors after winning the cultural battle over his neighbour.
When he is left alone Roy once again reminisces his splendid past. With no one around to talk he gets himself drunk and introduces the portraits of his ancestors to his servants. He notices a big spider on his own portrait. Due to a gust of wind the candles are blown out. As the candles extinguish he has the feeling that his life should also end here. As the flame of the candle flickers brightly just before extinguishing he too has displayed his refined aesthetic values to the world. His servants however assure him that all is fine as dawn is about to break. Biswambhar Roy, however, mounts a horse royally and rides at a high speed. He is violently thrown off and dies as two servants look on tearfully.
Chhabi Biswas is superb in his role of Biswambhar Roy, the long forgotten zamindar of refined tastes. Jalsaghar brings out very well the rich Indian classical music. The film has some of the best Hindustani classical singers and musicians. It was Jalsaghar that attracted the attention of the French audience to Satyajit Ray's films. The film received mixed responses from the international critics. Even while criticizing Ray's films they could not help but appreciate the master director, "Worrying over its faults is like worrying over whether King Lear is well constructed; it doesn't really matter"-- Pauline Kael.
Jalsaghar received the following awards
President's Silver Medal, New Delhi, 1959
Silver Medal for Music, Moscow, 1959
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