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Film Data
The Big City  1963
Mahanagar / The Big City: Mahanagar
Director:  Satyajit Ray
Producer:
  R.D. Bansal
Art Director:
  Bansi Chandragupta
Editor:
  Dulal Dutta
Music:
  Satyajit Ray
Screenplay:
  Satyajit Ray, based on the story Abataranika by Narendranath Mitra
Director of Photography:
  Subrata Mitra
slideshow
Cast:
spacer1 Anil Chatterjee spacer1 Madhabi Mukherjee spacer1 Haren Chatterjee spacer1 Jaya Bhaduri
spacer1 Sefalika Devi spacer1 Prasenjit Sarkar spacer1 Haradhan Bannerjee spacer1 Vicky Redwood
spacer1 Bibhuti Banerjee spacer1 Manisha Chakraborty spacer1 Tapan Chatterjee spacer1 Arun Chowdhury
spacer1 Anil Chatterjee spacer1 Madhabi Mukherjee spacer1 Haren Chatterjee
spacer1 Jaya Bhaduri spacer1 Sefalika Devi spacer1 Prasenjit Sarkar
spacer1 Haradhan Bannerjee spacer1 Vicky Redwood spacer1 Bibhuti Banerjee
spacer1 Manisha Chakraborty spacer1 Tapan Chatterjee spacer1 Arun Chowdhury
spacer1 Anil Chatterjee spacer1 Madhabi Mukherjee
spacer1 Haren Chatterjee spacer1 Jaya Bhaduri
spacer1 Sefalika Devi spacer1 Prasenjit Sarkar
spacer1 Haradhan Bannerjee spacer1 Vicky Redwood
spacer1 Bibhuti Banerjee spacer1 Manisha Chakraborty
spacer1 Tapan Chatterjee spacer1 Arun Chowdhury

Synopsis:
In 1960s Calcutta, Subrata Muzumdar lives with his wife Arati, daughter Bani, and now elderly father, a retired teacher who is, unable to work, spends his time working on newspaper crossword puzzles, hoping to win the prize money on offer. Subrata works as a bank clerk, but his wages are increasingly becoming inadequate to take care of his family. Subrata’s father, Priyogopal, needs a new pair of glasses in order to see the paper, and repeatedly reminds Subrata of an old pupil of his who is now a successful optometrist, hoping he may get a free pair. Having heard that a friend’s wife has a job as a teacher, Arati decides that she too should get a job, and secretly meets savvy businessman Mr. Mukherjee, becoming employed to sell knitting machines door-to-door. When Arati reveals what she has done her husband is surprised, and it is obvious that her decision is not welcomed by her family, her actions being met by silent hostility from her father-in-law, but Arati and Subrata agree that should they buy the old man a new pair of glasses from the money she is going to earn it may act as a peace offering, although Arati is annoyed that she has to justify herself and her choices so. Behind his back, Priyogopal visits his former pupil, complaining his son’s financial situation and lack of ambition, and is offered a new pair of glasses as a token of his former student’s gratitude. When Arati receives her first salary, Subrata’s father refuses her present, preferring to beg favours from former pupils rather than accept his daughter-in-law’s financial assistance. Arati does well, and Mr. Mukherjee believes she could quickly move into management. When she receives her first salary, Priyogopal refuses her present of a pair of glasses, making it perfectly clear that women should not work and instead stay at home, looking after their families. Tension rises within the family as Subrata starts to feel increasingly threatened by his wife’s financial independence, and realises he will have to ask her to make a major sacrifice.
Review:
Writer / director Satyajit Ray’s ninth feature film, and his first to be set in contemporary times, The Big City is a timely piece set when, later than in the Western hemisphere, women had started to move out of their traditional domestic roles in the sub-continent, mostly because of the traditional extended family becoming expotentionally bigger, and the patriarch of the house, often the only one who would be in work, finding it increasingly difficult to manage on one wage packet coming into the household. Based on the story Abataranika by Narendranath Mitra, the film gently examines several seemingly mundane topics, such as the persistence of outmoded tradition, and the slow rise of women into the workplace in developing India, In getting a job, Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee) is helping the family, who are finding it increasingly difficult to live on the one wage being brought in by patriarch Subrata (Anil Chatterjee), but is his traditionalist father (Haren Chatterjee), a retired teacher, and spending all his time entering crossword competitions, who is the most resentful of this, seeing it as an affront not only to his son’s standing within the family but to tradition, but he himself is not above shaming a former pupil, now an optician, into providing him with a free pair of new glasses, then disdainfully rejecting the pair offered by Arati from her first pay packet, emphasising how he regards the value of money earned by women, and although daughter Bani is still a student, revising for her exams, it is accepted that instead of any sort of career for herself, her role will be to remain at home and look after the family. The winner of the Silver Bear Award at the 1964 Berlin Film Festival for director Ray, although made fifty years ago The Big City still reflects the attitudes of much of the subcontinent, where women’s rights and equality are still decades behind the west, but remains an intimate and often poignant portrait of an ordinary family struggling aging both financial troubles and the social mores of the day.

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