6 March 2003 | zetes
If, at some point in the future, Pather Panchali cannot fulfil its duties as Satyajit Ray's masterpiece, Mahanagar can step up and fill in the position. Or perhaps the two films can co-rule, as they compliment each other so nicely. Pather Panchali is the simple, straightforward masterpiece and Mahanagar is the more ambitious and complex work. The first is Ray's La Strada and the second his La Dolce Vita.
The Big City is a subtle, flowing work about a young housewife (Madhabi Mukherjee, who would also star in Ray's Charulata) in a middle-class family who finds a job when her father-in-law needs a new pair of spectacles. The family is very conservative, and this upsets everyone. Her husband's manhood is somewhat insulted, her father- and mother-in-law (who both live with the married couple in a rather small apartment) feel that it's just not right, and her son thinks he's been forgotten. The only one who supports her is her younger sister-in-law; she sees her as a role model. The husband (Anil Chatterjee) tries to get her to quit, but, when he loses his own job, he changes his mind quickly. Now she becomes the breadwinner, and he is effectively castrated.
This could have been a little, humble film, like many of Ray's works. But here he decides to examine a huge portion of his own culture, setting up many opposites and studying them closely. We have the husband and wife, man and woman, old-world conservatism and new-world progression, young and old, employer and employee. The list goes on. The depth of this film is nearly endless, and I'm sure it would hold up to any number of repeated viewings. The only flaw that I can see is a somewhat contrived climax - Ray had this problem in a few of his films.
I do have to give special praise to the two leads. Mukherjee and Chatterjee are just brilliant in the film. The supporting cast is also uniformly excellent.