The Big City- Satyajit Ray
Mahanagar is a Bengali movie directed by Satyajit Ray and released in 1963. The story is about a middle-class Bengali family in Calcutta in the early 1960s. A film that closely examines the divergence of traditional and modern Calcutta in the 1960s. A simple, heartwarming tale that gently touches on some very pivotal political issues of the time. This is arguably a film about a woman who is simply learning to embrace her femininity in a world of men without the hopes of becoming a man. Bhambal works as a banker and supports his family. There are five people in the family; his wife, parents, sister and his son. Money is tight and it becomes difficult to maintain their family. So his wife, Arati, takes a job. But her more traditional in-laws don’t accept this. Her father-in-law throws out hints of disapproval about it very subtly. Arati continues her work. She is successful and enjoys it a great deal, and also starts to support the family. In her work, she befriends Edith, an Anglo-Indian lady. Later in the story Subrata’s bank shuts and he loses his job.
Her work becomes necessary however Subrata’s anxieties and insecurities begin to come in between his relationship with Arati, This is so beautifully and realistically crafted in Ray’s film. Subrata’s character changes overtime from a supportive modern-minded husband to an insecure and controlling husband- this fall in character is evident through fantastic dialogue and subtle actions. We notice his whole demeanor change and we cant help feeling for both him and Arati. Subrata loses self dignity and it creates a distance between them. When her boss begins to be impartial to her friend, Edith, she protests against it and finally resigns. Ray was always exceptionally good in portraying human emotions and conflicts on screen. Mahanagar is another example of his genius. This1963 film is universally relevant even today. The insecurities of the characters are haunting.
We are introduced to two sides of the story- both differing in tones and lighting. While Subrata sulks in the darkness, Arati goes out to work during the day with excitement and zest. apart from showing the hustle of a big city it really brings to life the conflict of patriarchy and the constant need of money. A movie focusing on feminism and women’s empowerment without exploiting the woman , but more importantly it’s a movie that shows us how the woman is essentially the binder in the Indian family structure. Satyajit Ray adds depth and meaning to this simple story, Arati’s character is one of the most lovely depictions of strong female lead yet maintaining her maternal femininity. Subrata is the typical intellectual Bengali man who only portrays his open mindedness yet is not prepared to see his wife earning for the family. The tensions and themes that surround this movie are very important- success, passion and jealousy add to the crude fast paced setting of a big city like Calcutta.
Ray is the maestro of film creation who could perfectly portray the scenario that existed during the industrial age turmoil when there was dearth of technical professionals, and mediocre graduates from general streams started getting kicked out of jobs. Although if this was dated by the standard of Ray’s work, that might be because of an older literary material. You will find the theme is much better than later works of other people [I can remember the part directed by Nandita Sen in ‘I Am’ anthology film].
This interesting Dichotomy between modern Calcutta and Traditional Bengal is explored through the B character stories like that of Edith and the father in law who all play strong roles in contributing to moving the plot forward. The charismatic boss has a fantastic way of subtly controlling his employee’s without being seemingly rude. His big personality however does not overshadow the Protagonist, Arati’s endearing screen presence. Although this being one of Ray’s lesser known works compared to the ‘Apu trilogy’ and ‘Nayak’, One can not help but falling love with the characters in this film. ‘The big City’ is a must-watch masterpiece and a gem of a film.