The Big City (Mahanagar), set in mid-1950s Calcutta and directed by the great Satyajit Ray, follows the personal triumphs and frustrations of Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee), who decides, despite the initial protests of her bank-clerk husband, to take a job to help support their family.
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Two things stand out to me in particular - Madhabi Mukherjee's dynamic performance and Satyajit Ray's ability to express the passage of time with subtle dialogue cues. This was his first film set entirely in his native Kolkata, and I love the shots of both Bhombol and Arati strolling through the city.
Difficult for me to write about masterpieces without gushing. Ray's been compared to the great 19th century novelists, and the description is handy: few filmmakers are so rich in detail, so able to subtly draw the characters' psychologies, so able to conjure the characters' worlds. Cheap cynicism and experimental doodling are alien to Ray's mind. This film is a lesson in grace, measure, intelligence, and class.
Going in, I didn’t expect how reverberating and powerful this film would be. In Ray’s gentle touch there is so much beauty and emotion that can be expressed, in ways that isn’t captured when the emotions are overblown and fake. Its also very brave and progressive in its depiction of a house wife leaving home and working to support her family in India. An amazing performance from Madhabi Mukherjee.
Madhabi Mukherjee's beauty in these Ray classics makes me feel three feet tall. You don't simply fall into such eyes without those shimmers and shades of a deeper character: great writing, internalised. It's Setsuko Hara all over again.
Another gem from Ray, his modern outlook being well ahead of its time in his country. I'm most impressed by the love Ray has for his characters regardless of their imperfections. Mukherjee is fantastic.