Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The Big City

1963, India, directed by Satyajit Ray (aka Mahanagar)

Ray's exceptional film is a warm, pragmatic depiction of the family dynamics that are cast into sharp relief when a young Calcutta woman elects to take a job in order to supplement her family's income. I had only previously seen Ray's Apu films, so this came as a welcome corrective to the idea that his focus is resolutely rural. Mahanangar provides a rich sense of life in early 1960s Calcutta -- the backdrop of economic precariousness is neatly summarized -- as well as a wonderful heroine (played with exceptional subtlety by Madhabi Mukherjee). 

Ray's particular skill here lies in sketching in each member of the family with a distinct and complex character; the refusal to over-simplify the characterizations creates moments of considerable emotional power (without ever leaving us in doubt who the centre of the story is). The film is also luminously beautiful -- there far too many striking and insightful shots to enumerate, though the effort would be a pleasure. 

(I was inspired to watch the film after it appeared in the Siren's end-of-year roundup of treasures). 

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States