The Big City (tbc)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byKatherine McLaughlin14/08/2013

Four out of Five Stars
Running Time: 135 mins

Funny, entirely relatable and beautifully shot slice of 1950s Calcutta life that centres around the dynamics of a middle-class family and the changing values of the time.

What’s it all about?
Subrata, a young bank clerk struggling to support his family is taken aback when his wife, Arati, takes on a job as a door to door saleswoman to help out. His male pride is dented as his wife flourishes in the work place and the old school values his parents’ project on him only make matters worse.

The Good
Satyajit Ray carefully explores this time of political change, the after effects of the British rule in India and the woman’s place in society all with a natural sensibility that makes Calcutta of the 1950s entirely relatable. Originally Ray wanted to name the film ‘A Woman’s Place’ and it’s clear to see why as the focus is on Arati and her transformation into an independent, working woman.

Her guilt at leaving her son at home, the shame she brings to her husband’s parents’ and the pride she feels at being able to support her family is beautifully portrayed by Madhabi Mukherjee’s emphatic facial expressions. Every interaction and every impassioned speech she gives is wonderful to watch and makes you root for success in her endeavours. Her pampered son Pintu glows with a young cheek as he manipulates his mother with his tantrums, but her response is one of such selflessness you can’t help but empathise with her position.

The Great
All the female roles are excellent and memorable. The relationships between all the women, no matter how challenging, feel real and warm. Especially lovely is Arati’s fondness for her sister-in-law as she encourages her to study. Anglo Indian co-worker Edith Simmons, played with a brilliant bolshiness by Vicky Redwood, is just a joy to watch as she encourages Arati to wear lipstick and sunglasses. Her fearlessness is an inspiration to Arati and their developing friendship plays nicely into Ray’s representation of attitudes towards the Anglo Indian community at the time. Bathroom and break room chat between the working ladies is also perfectly portrayed.

Ray is careful not to vilify anyone as he shifts between each family member and the psychology behind their values. Considering Ray made this film in 1963, its issues are still extremely relevant, with themes of the economic downturn, culture clashes and the place of women in society very much ringing true today. However, underneath all of this is a tale of humanity triumphing over hardship, which is difficult not to become involved in as the characters are so rich and complex that they continue to have a life of their own long after the running time.

Worth seeing?
Satyajit Ray made many films about the marginalized underclass in India and The Big City is an excellent introduction to his work thanks to its charming characters, pertinent themes and wicked sense of humour.

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Content updated: 21/03/2019 22:52

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