Madhabi Mukherjee in Mahanagar (1963)


(director/writer: Satyajit Ray; screenwriter: from a story by Narendranath Mitra; cinematographer: Subrata Mitra; editor: Dulal Dutta; music: Satyajit Ray; cast: Madhabi Mukherjee (Arati), Anil Chatterjee (Subrata), Haradhan Banerjee (Mr. Mukkerjee), Haren Chatterjee (Subrata’s Father), Shephalika Devi (Subrata’s Mother), Vicky Redwood (Edith Simmons), Jaya Bhaduri (Bani, Sister), Prasenjit Sarkar (Pintu, Brother); Runtime: 122; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: R. D. Bansal; Reliance Home Video; 1963-India--in Bengali with English subtitles)
“Lyrical Ozu-like family drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

India’s great filmmaker Satyajit Ray(“The Music Room”/”Apu Trilogy”/”Two Daughters”), the writer-director of this black and white shot lyrical Ozu-like family drama, set in 1955 Calcutta, at a time of an economic crisis and a bank crash, is adapted by Ray from a story by Narendranath Mitra. Though overlong and slow-moving, it’s excellently crafted and acted.

The traditional marriage of lower-middle-class Calcutta residing bank accountant husband Subrata (Anil Chatterjee) and his devoted homebody wife Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee) is shaken when to make ends meet Arati is determined to get a job and help with the family financial woes. The traditionalist Subrata is not enthused with the idea of his wife working. Subrata’s elderly impoverished out of work teacher father (Haren Chatterjee), busy doing crossword puzzles to win prize money, and his conservative mother (Shephalika Devi), more vehemently object. AnywayArati applies and gets hired by the firm owned by Mr. Mukkerjee (Haradhan Banerjee) to sell knitting machines door-to-door. Their studious teenage daughter (Jaya Bhaduri) fully supports mom, while her younger brother (Prasenjit Sarkar) is around for comic relief.

The couple hope to win father over by buying him eyeglasses with the extra money earned. But father visits a former pupil, now an optometrist, and after maligning his son for not supporting him gets a free pair of glasses. Meanwhile Arati is a hard worker and impresses her affable boss, who is thinking she has good potential to be promoted to manager. At home her old-fashioned father-in-law refuses her financial help and hubby feels threatened as the family head when he loses his job over the bank crash and his wife becomes the sole bread winner. In embarrassment he begs her to quit.

It proves to be a gentle but powerful satirical humanistic domestic drama that provides both low-key comedy and insight into how women were viewed during that period in India and of how financially unstable was the emerging economy, and how the push for equality between the sexes became a reality in the changing modern period.

Madhabi Mukherjee’s sympathetic performance as the timid housewife who progresses as the confident working woman keeps the film appealing, while Ray’s observant direction earned him in 1964 the Best Director prize in Berlin.