With Mahanagar (The big city)(1963) Satyajit Ray explores the pathos of the people living in a modern day city.
Subrata Mazumdar (Anil Chatterjee) is a bank employee. The meagre income he earns is not enough to support his middle class family, which consists of his wife Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee), their son, his retired father (Haren Chatterjee) and mother and his young sister Bani (Jaya Bhaduri). After a few hints from her husband, Arati too decides to take up a job with stiff opposition from the elders, especially the father. Arati finds a job as a sales girl selling knitting machines door to door. Her success notwithstanding, Subrata asks her to quit her job. But as luck would have it, Subrata ends up losing his job due to unforeseen circumstances. Now its Arati who is the ‘man’ of the family. But then everything isn’t smooth sailing in the big city…..Thus begins a journey of struggles and hardships, and one has to be optimistic.
Somehow Mahanagar doesn’t have that poetic flow to it, as the other Ray films I’ve seen, especially Pather Panchali and Charulata (I know they can’t be compared, but then….). But he lends the film a raw feel which is much understated and he’s made a film which was completely modern for its time- about people living in 1950’s
This was Madhabi Mukherjee’s first film with Satyajit Ray, after which she went on to star in his Classic Charulata and Kapurush. The transformation of Arati from a timid housewife to a confident working woman is excellently brought about. She underplays her character without being overly dramatic. Ditto with Anil Chatterjee. Even Haren Chatterjee as the father, who is unapologetic about his views, especially women working, but how he slowly ends up surrendering to the ways of modern times, plays his part well.
The camera work is quite impressive, and so is the way a few scenes have been executed. The scene where Arati is looking at herself in the mirror, with her first pay in her hands- the expression on Madhabi Mukherjee’s face and the scene as such is brilliant. A few of the close-up shots, of the main players, throughout the film, have been very interestingly shot with the play of light and shadow.
A film with interesting insights of city life