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The viper is deaf and the scorpion can't see, so it is and so shall be, the same way the countryside is peaceful and the city bustling and the human being impossible to satisfy. Lacrau ... See full summary »
Calcutta in the early 1960's. Bhambal supports his wife Arati, his parents, and two children. Money is tight, so Arati goes to work. She's successful and enjoys it, but this untraditional step throws the household into chaos: her in-laws initiate a "cold war" of silence and disapproval. When Bhambal loses his job, her working is essential; he loses self respect, and the gulf between them widens. Arati questions whether to keep her daughter in school. At work, her friendship with Edith, a Euro-Indian who smokes, swears, and uses lipstick, brings Arati close to impertinence with her genial boss. Her job is imperiled, she acts impulsively, and who will understand her actions? Written by
The struggle between traditional and modern values in Indian life is the centerpiece of The Big City (Mahanagar), a charming and totally engaging film by the great Indian director Satyajit Ray. Unlike Ray's earlier works which were centered either on the very poor or the very affluent, The Big City deals with the life of an ordinary middle class Bengali family and spotlights the changing role of women in India during the 1960s. Based on a short story by Narendranath Mitra and set in Calcutta, Subrata Mazumdar (Anil Chatterjee) is the sole breadwinner in his family but does not make enough to support his extended family that includes his wife Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee), their young son Pintu (Prasenjit Sarkat), sister (Jaya Bhaduri), father (Haren Chatterjee) and mother (Sefalike Devi).
Subrata's father is a retired school teacher whose pupils have gone on to considerable success as doctors, lawyers, and businessmen while he has slid further into poverty. When the aging patriarch is in need of new eyeglasses, he turns to one of his former pupils to help him out. After Subrata casually mentions that a friend's wife has gone to work, Arati gets the idea of supplementing the family's meager income by getting a job herself but this idea is looked on with disdain by the traditionally-minded family. A "cold war" prevails in the household as Arati takes a job selling sewing machines in affluent neighborhoods, enrolling the woman of the house who is always at home.
After several abortive attempts in which she backs off after hearing the sound of a guard dog, Arati settles into her job and begins to thrive, gaining increased self-confidence and inner strength. Even young Pintu is mollified when his mother brings him home some toys after getting paid. Influenced by co-worker Edith (Vicky Redwood), an Anglo-Indian, Arati begins to wear lipstick and sunglasses and is more assertive with her boss (Haradhan Bannerjee) but her husband is resentful and complains that he doesn't know her anymore. Although Edith persuades her boss to grant the workers a commission on sales, he seems to resent her Westernized manner and feels more comfortable with Arati whom he offers a promotion.
Due to a run on the bank in which he is an employee, Subrata is laid off and this causes additional stresses and strains in the family but their love for each other transcends economics and allows Arati to stand up to her boss on a matter of principle. The Big City is not as sweeping in scope or as in-depth a character study as some of Ray's more well-known films, but it is an honest and compelling portrait of a young woman's discovery of herself with strong performances by Mr. Chatterjee and especially Ms. Mukherjee, who would go on to star in one of Ray's most acclaimed films, Charulata.
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