The Big City
Film Title: Big City
Director: Satyajit Ray
Starring: Anil Chatterjee, Madhabi Mukherjee, Haren Chatterjee, Jaya Bhaduri
Running Time: 131 min
Satyajit Ray, one of cinema’s greatest auteurs and innovators, exploded onto the international scene in 1956 when Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road) premiered and won a prize at the Cannes festival. Based on a celebrated early 20th-century novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyaya, this heart-wrenching film about a family of impoverished villagers (including a boy named Apu, later the protagonist of the celebrated Apu Trilogy), Pather Panchali would become a useful primer in all things Ray.
Taking cues from Truffaut and De Sica, the film-maker quickly developed a unique and naturalistic film grammar that both looked to and anticipated experiments in the French nouvelle vague.
In this spirit, The Big City appeared in 1963, at a time when Ray was dabbling in literary adaptations, children’s stories, science fiction and just about any genre you can think of. The film, the winner of Berlin’s Silver Bear, harks back to the earlier Apu years in its deceptive simplicity and in its original stylistic squiggles.
This warm family melodrama follows Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee), a housewife, as she enters the workplace for the first time as a door-to-door saleswoman. Her subsequent success at her new job causes no end of friction at home. Her traditional minded father-in-law stops speaking to his son, who, in turn, can barely mask his jealousy even though it was his idea in the first place.
Arati’s burgeoning friendship with the Anglo-Indian Edith (Vicky Redmond) adds another dimension to the Bengali family’s distress. Tragedy seems to loom. But this is a Satyajit Ray movie, where money and employment will always come second to love and family matters.
Beneath the humanism, beneath the fluid, engaging dramatic structure there are ideas and suggestions about colonisation, post-colonisation and the dilemmas facing working women. But a gorgeous final shot across the thronged streets of Calcutta points to prospects that are both equal to and greater than any financial and societal crisis.