Cast & Crew
Subrata, a mild-mannered and underpayed Calcutta bank clerk, supports his wife, Arati, their small son, his aged parents, and his younger sister. When his meager salary fails to meet the daily needs of the family, Arati takes a job selling knitting machines to wealthy housewives. Outraged by this violation of propriety, Subrata's father, a half-blind retired schoolteacher, shuns Arati and looks upon his son with contempt. Subrata, however, tries to accept the practicality of his wife's working, despite the severe blow to his ego and the diminishment of his importance as head of the household. As Arati gradually becomes accustomed to the outside world and the art of selling, she begins to enjoy her new independence, delighting in meeting new people and assuming new responsibilities. When Subrata's bank is forced to close down, Arati becomes the only breadwinner in the family. Emotionally broken by his failure as a provider, Subrata is on the verge of demanding that his wife stop working when she quits her job because of her employer's prejudiced attitude toward Edith Simmons, an Anglo-Indian salesgirl. United by a mutual determination to overcome adversity, Subrata and Arati set out together to look for employment.
The Big City (1963) -
The Big City is a movie about a culture in flux. Not a culture of nationality or race but of gender and tradition. A culture that was universally in flux in 1963 (though the film takes place in the 1950s) and still in flux today. That culture is one in which men and women accept socially approved gender roles and stepping outside of it means risking everything.
In the Mazumdar household, the husband, Subrata (Anil Chatterjee) is the sole income provider while his wife, Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee), takes care of the chores around the house. When Arati wants to get a job, both because she knows of a neighbor who has done so and they could use the extra financial help, her conservative in-laws object but Subrata, to his credit, supports his wife and her ambitions. That she succeeds far beyond anyone's expectations and to the point that she becomes the chief bread-winner complicates matters considerably.
It is in this examination of a gender culture war that Ray touched on a subject that was both universal and extremely of the moment. Women all over the world were fighting for equal rights, and that extended to equal pay, respect and autonomy. The film was a critical and commercial success, although it was not selected as a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film by the Academy that year (a blunder on the Academy's part), and regained prominence for Ray as a director. Not that he ever lost it but as every great director before and after him discovered, critics and audiences have incredibly short memories.
The star of the movie, Madhabi Mukherjee, was a rising star in the Indian film industry when she began working with Ray. Her role in The Big City would bring her international fame and recognition for a truly great performance. One of the key aspects of her portrayal is Arati's strength. She fills the role with a confidence that makes Arati's successful transition to salesperson seem like a natural arc. After working with Ray on two more films, she continued her stardom but never made any movies again as good as those with Ray.
The rest the cast are equally good, with Anil Chatterjee, Haradhan Bannerjee, Vicky Redwood and Haren Chatterjee all standouts in their roles. And then there is Jaya Bhaduri (now Bachchan) as Subrata's sister, Bani. It was her first role at age 15, and though no one knew it at the time she would go on to have one of the most successful careers in Indian cinema and then after retiring, a successful career in the Indian Parliament as well.
Despite The Big City touching on so many culturally charged themes, Ray didn't make a movie about a cause, a simple political narrative with characters as mouthpieces for each individual position. Rather, he crafted out of Mitra's story a study of a family, and friendship, between co-workers and spouses alike. And a study in courage, as Arati embraces her new role but also stands by her ideals without flinching. It is a beautiful film, one that reminded the world, once again, of the greatness of Satyajit Ray and the poetry of his art.
Directed by Satyajit Ray
Written by Satyajit Ray
Produced by R.D. Bansal
Music by Satyajit Ray
Cinematography by Subrata Mitra
Film Editing by Dulal Dutta
Production Design by Bansi Chandragupta
Art Direction by Bansi Chandragupta
Makeup by Ananta Das
Cast: Anil Chatterjee (Subrata Mazumdar), Madhabi Mukherjee (Arati Mazumder), Jaya Bhaduri (Bani), Haren Chatterjee (Priyogopal, Subrata's father), Sefalika Devi (Sarojini, Subrata's Mother), Prasenjit Sarkar (Pintu), Haradhan Bannerjee (Himangshu Mukherjee), Vicky Redwood (Edith)
By Greg Ferrara
The Big City (1963) -
You would not recognize me if you saw me at work.- Arati
Released in India in 1963 as Mahanagar; running time: 133 min.
Winner of the Best Director Prize at the 1964 Berlin Film Festival.
Released in United States 1964
Released in United States September 26, 1964
Re-released in United States December 27, 1995
Re-released in United States July 14, 1995
Shown at 1964 Berlin Film Festival.
Shown at New York Film Festival September 26, 1964.
Formerly distributed by Edward Harrison.
Released in United States 1964 (Shown at 1964 Berlin Film Festival.)
Re-released in United States July 14, 1995 (Lincoln Plaza Cinemas; New York City)
Released in United States September 26, 1964 (Shown at New York Film Festival September 26, 1964.)
Re-released in United States December 27, 1995 (Film Forum; New York City)