74. “The Big City”, Satyajit Ray (1963)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.


The Big City aka মহানগর aka Mahānagar

dir. Satyajit Ray (1963) scr. Satyajit Ray based on Abataranika by Narendranath Mitra cin. Subrata Mitra with Madhabi Mukherjee, Anil Chatterjee, Haradhan Bannerjee, Jaya Badhuri

In 100 words: The consummate humanist, Ray’s best work is this anti-melodrama that traces the changing role of women in Indian society. Ray’s films have always excelled at observing their characters’ behaviors in relation to a realistic scenario. Here, the heroine’s growing self-confidence collides against the strictures of her society—and Ray magnificently captures how her family members all react to this shift. Aided by an assured control of framing, editing, and mise-en-scene, Ray subverts melodramatic impulses for a more subtle storytelling, which then became a poignant and powerful depiction of a country in flux. Mukherjee gives one of the best performances ever.

Other Movies for Context: Obviously, the big films to see here are Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy. I’ve only seen one thus far, the exquisite Pather Panchali (1955). The other Ray movie I’ve seen is his magnificent The Music Room (1958), another one of his social dioramas that is so elegantly constructed and shot. I look forward to seeing more of his films.

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