The Big CityOverview -
The Big City (Mahanagar), set in mid-1950s Calcutta and directed by the great Satyajit Ray, follows the personal triumphs and frustrations of Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee), who decides, despite the initial protests of her bank-clerk husband, to take a job to help support their family. With remarkable sensitivity and attention to the details of everyday working-class life, Ray gradually builds a powerful human drama that is at once a hopeful morality tale and a commentary on the identity of the contemporary Indian woman.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Satyajit Ray was one of the most prolific filmmakers of his time. He made numerous films that spoke to generations of people in his home town of Calcutta. Ray's films pushed the envelope to show that women could be equal to men in politically charged times in that part of the world. And Ray shows this with 'The Big City', and how these two lifestyles clash within one family.
We center on the young and beautiful Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee) who now lives in Calcutta with her family. Luckily, her husband Subrata (Anil Chatterjee) finds a job quickly at a bank, but to his father's dismay, he is not making enough to live a life of luxury. They make ends meet, but it soon becomes evident that Arati has to get a job as well.
So Arati soon interviews for a local saleswoman job and is hired on, relieving some of the financial burden that has been plaguing their family. Back then, it was very rare for a beautiful young woman to be working amongst men, but Arati takes this position with pride, holds her chin up, and soon begins to succeed with her new position.
At first, her husband is happy she is working and helping out, but since Arati is so good at her job, she quickly advances and is making more money than her husband. Now, Subrata feels inadequate and embarrassed that his wife is the big money maker of the family, and asks her to quit, but soon realizes that they need the money and allows her to keep the job. The dynamics of the household are switched as well with Arati calling most of the shots, which definitely throws a kink into their lifestyle. Subrata even loses his job, making Arati the sole money maker for the family.
Now, Arati is moving her way up the business, becoming more successful and making her own new friends. Ray captures Arati and Subrata's ever changing roles in their family. While Subrata is being degraded by his father for not being able to provide for his family, Arati is trying to make things work at home and at her job. And we see that Arati has her own opinions on every issue and expresses them at every chance she gets, which was something not held in high regard for women of this time.
'The Big City' was ahead of its time, as we see so often today that women are becoming more and more successful with a higher percentage being the lead money makers in households. Their struggles and issues with society are still present today, and Satyajit Ray perfectly shows this with the beautiful Arati.
'The Big City' comes with an impressive 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio. According to Criterion, this new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution from the 35mm camera negative and a 35mm print from India. There were some severe warps to the image, but Criterion has done a superb job in restoring this brilliant film. The detail is amazing and gives a great depth to the image. Exterior scenes excel. In some of the lower lit scenes, there are some minor issues, but the depth is always great. The white and black balance is amazing as well.
There is a nice layer of grain. All dirt, hairs, and specks have been removed with virtually no compression issues to speak of. Overall, this new transfer looks fluid and natural as it was meant to be. Criterion has hit a home run with his video presentation.
This release comes with a Bengali LPCM 1.0 audio mix that sounds great for what it is. The dialogue is always crisp and clear, with no evidence of any pops, cracks, or hissing. Other ambient sounds do make an appearance and come across natural, but all of the sound is from the center channel. This is true to source audio, so don't expect any bass or directionality from this track as this won't rumble any walls or produce sounds from behind you.
- Interview with Madhabi Mukerjee (HD, 18 mins) - This interview took place in 2013 and features Madhabi Mukerjee who played Arati in the film. She discusses her work in both films and what it was like to work with Satyajit Ray. Great interview.
- The Coward (HD, 69 mins) - Yes, this is a feature length film from Satyajit Ray called 'The Coward', which is an extra. This film also follows the roles that women played in India and stars Madhabi Mukerjee and Soumitra Chatterjee.
- Satyajit Ray and the Modern Woman (HD, 24 mins) - Here is another interview that took place in 2013 with Satyajit Ray film scholar Suranjan Ganguly. He discusses the political, racial, and class issues in Ray's films, focusing on the roles of women. Definitely worth a look.
- Satyajit Ray (1974) (HD, 14 mins) - Here we have a short documentary on Satyajit Ray as he talks about how he directs and his style of filmmaking. There is even some on set footage here too. Very cool.
- Criterion Booklet - Here we have a 32-page illustrated booklet with essays, interviews and the technical information about the Blu-Ray.
Criterion has knocked it out of the park once again with more of Satyajit Ray's film resume. This time we get 'The Big City' along with 'The Coward', all on one disc. These films are brilliant and should be seen by all of Ray's fans. The video and audio are true to source and are well done. The extras are phenomenal as well. This Blu-ray is highly recommended.
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