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Indian movies that sparked the critic in me: Satyajit Ray’s Mahanagar is the definitive feminist traditional – Entertainment News , Firstpost

I may write a e-book on the impression Mahanagar left on me as a woman rising up in a feminist family and the life-long affect it has had on my strategy to cinema viewing.

(Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a collection by movie critic Anna M.M. Vetticad)

Cinema is a political enterprise. 

Films are leisure, they’re a method of travelling to locations you could by no means bodily see in your life and exploring overseas cultures, however over and above all the things else for me, they’re political. I used to be clearly not able to articulating this view with such readability as a toddler within the 1980s after I watched Satyajit Ray’s Mahanagar (The Big City) on our household’s box-like TV set, a far cry from the modern flat TVs of at present. I do know although that it’s again then that an consciousness started to daybreak on me of the feminist potential of movies. 

When a proposal was mooted for me to write down a collection on Firstpost concerning the cinematic works that planted the seeds of a movie critic in me, Mahanagar got here to thoughts instantly. I used to be a child after I first watched it, not but a youngster so far as I bear in mind, and I can’t be positive I knew the phrase “feminism” on the time, however I can always remember the influence on me of the heroine Arati’s growing self-confidence manifested in her altering physique language by the size of the narrative.

When Mahanagar was launched in 1963, Ray had already been a family identify in West Bengal and a celebrated director throughout India and the world for nearly a decade. His debut characteristic, 1955’s Pather Panchali (Song of the Road), had earned him quick international recognition, a National Award for Best Feature Film at house and on the Cannes Film Festival, the Best Human Document Award. Mahanagar was the primary Ray movie I watched although. 

Based on Narendranath Mitra’s quick story Abotaranika (The Prologue), Mahanagar is an account of altered energy equations in a patriarchal, lower-middle-class Bengali family in 1950s Kolkata, when the daughter-in-law of the household will get a job. Arati Mazumdar (performed by Madhabi Mukherjee) is initially proven as a meek, self-effacing girl who spends her days dutifully catering to the wants of her husband Subrata (Anil Chatterjee), their solely baby Pintu, her school-going sister-in-law Bani and aged parents-in-law, Sarojini and Priyagopal. While every of those characters is essential, the focus of the plot stays Arati’s bond with Subrata. 

That the Mazumdars are struggling financially is established rapidly in Mahanagar’s opening scenes. They dwell in a cramped flat, and amongst different indicators of their straitened circumstances, Priyagopal is struggling together with his imaginative and prescient as a result of he desperately wants new spectacles and Arati borrows tea leaves from a neighbour to serve her drained partner a beverage when he will get house.   

Indian films that sparked the critic in me Satyajit Rays Mahanagar is the definitive feminist classic

Anil Chatterjee, Jaya Bhaduri (later Bachchan) and Madhabi Mukherjee in Mahanagar

Just as rapidly established is the benevolent patriarchy within the family. Subrata is nearly affectionate in his tone when he chides Arati for not being there to serve him as quickly as he returned house. He will not be impolite, overbearing or violent, and the couple are, to all appearances, keen on one another, however his admonishment will not be non-serious. He later adopts a half-jesting tone when he tells her “a woman’s place is in the home” throughout a dialogue on whether or not or not she ought to take up a job. 

The concept of a job comes from Arati who’s ridden with guilt for the reason that burden of the household’s funds is completely on her beloved Subrata’s shoulders. She goes as far as to ask, “And what do I do? I never saw how you were suffering…” – contemplating that after we observe her inside the confines of their house, she is occupied at each on the spot, her evaluation of her contribution to the family makes Mahanagar a telling illustration of how economies, households and girls themselves until date proceed to underrate ladies’s work inside the home. 

What is equally attention-grabbing is Subrata’s enthusiastic involvement in Arati’s quest for a chaakri (job). His solely fear at that time is how his dad and mom may react. As days roll by although, as Arati’s new-found self-assurance turns into seen, he’s wracked with insecurities and it turns into clear that he’s utilizing his dad and mom as an excuse to camouflage his personal ego, which was massaged by her earlier diffidence and dependence on him. 

Subrata is proven having fun with his spouse’s hesitation as she applies for a job and in her preliminary days as an office-goer, patronising her – once more affectionately – with an air of superiority that appears to boost the heat of his emotions in direction of her. His feminism (if it may be referred to as that in any respect) is a feminism of compulsion and comfort that can’t stand up to the later realisation that his spouse not wants him in  exactly the best way she as soon as did. This is the everlasting dilemma of the trendy man: to worth or to not worth the love of a girl who’s with you not as a result of she wants to be, however as a result of she desires to be with you.

A decade later, one other nice Bengali director – this time one working in Hindi cinema – offered a much more aggressive, disagreeable model of Subrata on display screen in Abhimaan (Pride). Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s movie starred Jaya Bachchan nee Bhaduri as a profitable singer whose husband (Amitabh Bachchan) ruins their marriage together with his jealousy. Subrata in Mahanagar is milder, he’s additionally apparently embarrassed by his personal small-mindedness which will be the one purpose why he hides behind his dad and mom’ conservatism for therefore lengthy. (Aside: coincidentally, Jaya had debuted in Mahanagar, taking part in Subrata’s little sister, Bani.)

Indian films that sparked the critic in me Satyajit Rays Mahanagar is the definitive feminist classic

Madhabi Mukherjee is luminous and sensible in Mahanagar

Both males exist in the actual world. However, this week after I occurred to learn Abotaranika (an English translation by Bhaskar Chattopadhyay within the assortment 14 Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray) I used to be fascinated to study that Ray was kinder to Subrata than the author Mitra had been. (Minor spoiler alert for many who haven’t but watched Mahanagar) In the closing chapter of the movie, Arati unilaterally makes a big choice that might tremendously have an effect on the household’s monetary state of affairs. It is a morally right selection, however one which many could contemplate impractical and foolhardy. Subrata is shocked however finally supportive. Mahanagar thus wraps up on a sense of positivity in direction of Subrata. In the quick story although, when he hears of Arati’s choice, he makes a petty comment – it’s onerous to come back away from Abotaranika liking him. (Spoiler alert ends)

Mitra wrote of the extra possible expertise a real-life Arati would have ended up having together with her Subrata. Ray maybe needed to go away viewers, particularly ladies, with a way of optimism and a conviction/hope that males would evolve on the similar tempo as ladies. 

What seals Mahanagar’s place amongst Indian feminist classics is the truth that although the Arati-Subrata relationship is central to the plot, the movie is, with out query, Arati’s story. When I first watched Mahanagar, and at each subsequent viewing, what has struck me most is that Ray doesn’t cut back Arati to a girl who’s “supplementing her husband’s income”, which is how giant sections of society are likely to view ladies who work outdoors the home even at present. Interestingly, Arati herself describes her employment in such phrases to a buddy, in a bid to protect her husband’s dignity and social standing, thus reflecting prevailing social attitudes in direction of economically unbiased ladies on the time. 

A turning level within the movie comes when Arati overtly expresses delight in how good she is at her job and declares that she has begun to take pleasure in it. Ray was telling us over half a century again what too many households will not be keen to simply accept even now – that girls, like males, derive satisfaction and fulfilment from working outdoors the home and that girls too could search careers, not mere jobs/employment. 

The most pleasant side of the development in Arati’s graph is available in the best way her gait and posture shift subtly though the quantity of her voice doesn’t. In a movie filled with impeccable performances, the luminous Madhabi Mukherjee made her place in historical past books together with her brilliantly delicate flip as Arati Mazumdar. 

Indian films that sparked the critic in me Satyajit Rays Mahanagar is the definitive feminist classic

Anil Chatterjee and Madhabi Mukherjee in a nonetheless from Mahanagar

It is tragic that mainstream Bengali cinema seems to have regressed in its stance on ladies since then; a regression exemplified by the huge industrial success of Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee’s directorial works previously decade, and epitomised by their deeply regressive 2016 movie Praktan (Former) by which Rituparna Sengupta and Prosenjit Chatterjee play a divorced couple whose cut up the movie – and finally the ex-wife herself – squarely blames on the girl’s unwillingness to “compromise”. 

In Mahanagar, Arati faces disapproval from her in-laws and, as time goes by, Subrata, however Ray himself is all the time firmly on her aspect.

The grasp filmmaker right here goes past exploring patriarchy inside a 1950s upper-caste Hindu  Bengali household although. In an period when his contemporaries within the Mumbai-based Hindi movie business have been persistently stereotyping and othering Christian ladies (all the time Anglo-Indians and Goans) as quasi-foreign, hyper-Westernised, usually sexually out there creatures – in sharp distinction to the ‘good’, sexually conservative Hindu heroine – a number of state borders away, Ray took up cudgels on behalf of Anglo-Indian Christians by the medium of Arati’s colleague Edith Simmons (Vicky Redwood) in Mahanagar

We see from the beginning that their boss, Mr Mukherjee, is prejudiced towards Edith who he repeatedly dismissively describes as “that firangi” (foreigner/Anglo-Indian). It is noteworthy that Mukherjee himself will not be portrayed as an archetypally ‘bad’ man – he’s, the truth is, a relentless supply of encouragement to Arati, who he considers one among his personal, and is nothing however variety to her. The duality in his perspective to ladies is an uncomfortable reminder that slim pondering resides not simply within the overtly evil ‘other’ but in addition in ‘people like us’. 

After rewatching Mahanagar on Youtube this week, I learnt from a 2013 essay by Professor Chandak Sengoopta of the University of London on the Criterion Collection’s web site that Vicky Redwood was a pseudonym the actor had assumed to play Edith and that she was really a Bengali, not an Anglo-Indian. This is exceptional as a result of Redwood’s efficiency and styling – factually correct however shorn of cliches and caricature – is proof of how dedicated Ray was in his opposition to stereotyping. 

When Arati stands up for Edith in Mahanagar’s most troubling episode, it isn’t spelt out to the viewers whether or not she did it as a result of it was the appropriate factor to do or as a result of she noticed in Mukherjee’s judgment of this younger girl a ripened, hardened model of the doubts that had begun to seep into Subrata’s thoughts about his personal spouse. Perhaps each components performed a component in her actions. Either method, this passage within the movie is essential additionally as a result of the general public discourse in India tends to emphasize ladies who pull one another down and girls enablers of patriarchy, whereas largely ignoring the ladies who’ve supported one another for millennia and have helped one another survive the soul-crushing results of patriarchy. 

I may write a e-book on the impression Mahanagar left on me as a woman rising up in a feminist family and the life-long affect it has had on my strategy to cinema viewing (and now reviewing). Years later, watching one other landmark Bengali movie – Rituparno Ghosh’s Dahan (1997) – I nearly choked with emotion and disbelief {that a} man may have made a movie on a girl with such empathy and sensitivity. Ray’s Mahanagar although is what kicked off my record of “men who understand women” and male feminist allies on the earth of cinema.

All photos from Facebook.

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