DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: The Big City

Friday 16 August 2013

The Big City

A remarkably poignant and mainstream accessible slice of Indian social realism from the master Indian director. The story of a conservative Indian mother and wife who finds herself embarking on a professional career outside of the cultural traditions of women at the time resounds powerfully for anyone who identifies with the struggles of personal empowerment and the conflicts of societal expectations.

The Big City (1963) dir. Satyajit Ray
Starring: Madhabi Mukherjee, Anil Chatterjee, Jaya Bhaduri, Vicky Redwood,

By Alan Bacchus

Arati (Mukherjee) is a traditional Indian homemaker, devoted to her husband, two children, and live-in father-in-law. Not unlike the pressures from the current economic crisis which saw much of the middle class reshift their lifestyle in light of job layoffs, Arati and her husband Subrata are feeling the financial pressure. It’s Arati who first suggests she find a new job. It doesn’t take long before she’s hired as a door-to-door sales-woman.

Arati’s introduction to the ‘big city’ working life, including her fear, trepidation and intimidation, is fascinating. She immediately befriends a fellow new hire for support, Edith, who dresses like a Westerner and speaks English. Side by side they represent the clash of Arati’s conservative traditional values and the new values of female empowerment and independence of the 1960’s, and yet instead of conflict Arati and Edith bond like sisters.

A master storyteller, Ray effective turns the screws on Arati. Despite her success her guilt and conservative conscious causes her to write a resignation letter. And she almost hands it over when he husband loses his job. Suddenly Arati finds herself the sole breadwinner. While it placates her husband masculinity it down right angers her father-in-law, a contemptable old man who commands power over the whol family.

Without ever delving into stock conflicts or characterization Ray maintains strong domestic conflict without ever vilifying either the husband or father-in-law. Ray makes us love and cheer for Arati and her triumphs as a working female professional in a man’s world. Her journey is truly gratifying and heroic, anchored by an iconic performance so loveable and sincere we can’t help but think of Fellini’s muse Giulietta Masina.

What a remarkable period the early 60’s were for international cinema. Here the neorealism of Vittorio De Sica and his remarkable mix of realism and dramatic sentiment, same with the examination of the modernity against traditional Japanese values of some of the great Ozu pictures.

The Big City is a truly satisfying splash of Indian feminism, poignant and timeless.


The Big City is available on Blu-Ray from The Criterion Collection

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