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 approbation. 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
Through 'Mahanagar' the great Satyajit Ray tells a story of an ordinary traditional family living in the modern big city (hence the title). However, the breadwinner of the family does not earn enough money to support the whole family. The wife decides to support him by working herself. Fortunately she finds a job and befriends a modern Anglo-Indian co-worker who does influence her by applying lip-stick and giving her a pair of sunglasses. The father of the family is a retired teacher and he does not accept the fact that his daughter-in-law is working. Gradually, the rest of the family disapprove her working. The retired teacher visits his former student and 'asks' for financial help.
Through this wonderful family drama, Ray tells us a story of the clash between modern and traditional values in a middle-class family struggling to make a living in the big city. Furthermore, Ray examines the 'urban' relationships as is reflected between the employer and employee, the husband and wife, the co-workers, the working mother and her child and so on. It is no surprise that Ray is THE most accomplished director of Indian cinema. This film, like pretty much everything else he did, only reminds us why.
The performances are top-notch. Again, this is no surprise as Ray manages to extract the best from his actors. Madhabi Mukherjee is breathtaking as we see her transform from a naive housewife, to a determined and excited employee to a strong courageous woman who stands up for her friend. Anil Chatterjee is excellent as the struggling husband who tries to make ends meet, silently accepts his wife's working but secretly resenting it. Vicky Redwood adds freshness with a strong presence and a likable performance. Haradhan Bannerjee is very good as the prejudiced but sympathetic boss. Jaya Bhadhuri delivers a very natural performance. The rest of the cast are all just as competent.
The ending isn't the traditional happy ending one witnesses in the numerous Indian films but it's one of optimism and hope that beautifully 'seals' the film. 'Mahanagar' is a fantastic example of the best of Indian cinema. A classic gem it is.
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