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
A fascinating dissection of gender roles in the age of modernity.
I loved this film. Madhabi Mukherjee is gorgeous and so engaging, with the virtuosic ability to represent the stresses of a changing Calcutta through a simple glance. Mahanagar is a fascinating dramatic case study of the collision of modernism and traditionalism that produced a sociocultural duality/dichotomy in twentieth-century India's urban landscapes.
We see all sorts of manifestations of duality in Mahanagar. The tension-cum-rivalry of Arati and Subrata is, of course, the most obvious manifestation. However, we also have the duality of the new- generation Arati/Subrata and the old-generation Sarojini/Priyogopal (Subrata's mother and father) and Arati, who wears traditional clothing and speaks Bengali, versus Edith, the English-speaking Anglo-Indian in Western dress. These instances of duality speak directly to the moment in which things began to make a 180-degree shift in India, when women became the breadwinners of the household and traditional gender norms became subsumed by sexual liberation.
With a leading lady as precise as Mukherjee, Ray was able wrap these complex coterminous processes up in a relatively tidy package. Mahanagar is essential viewing.
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