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The Big City(1963-1965)
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.
For more about The Big City and the The Big City Blu-ray release, see the The Big City Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on September 9, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Director: Satyajit Ray
Writer: Satyajit Ray
Starring: Madhabi Mukherjee, Haradhan Bannerjee, Soumitra Chatterjee, Anil Chatterjee, Santi Chatterjee, Jaya Bhaduri
This Blu-ray bundle includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
The Big City Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, September 9, 2013
Satyajit Ray's "Mahanagar" a.k.a "The Big City" (1963) and "Kapurush" a.k.a "The Coward" (1965) arrive on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include exclusive new video interview with actress Madhabi Mukerjee; new video interview with new video interview with scholar and author Suranjan Ganguly; and a short film produced by Indian filmmaker and film historian B.D. Garga. The release also arrives with a 32-page illustrated booklet featuring Chandak Sengoopta's "A Woman's Place" and "Ray on The Big City and The Coward: An Interview by Andrew Robinson". In Bengali, with optional English subtitles for the two films. Region-A "locked".
The Big City
The beautiful Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee, The Coward) and her family have recently relocated to Calcutta. Getting used to the rhythm of life in the big city has not been easy, but Arati is thankful that the family has been able to find a small house and settle down.
Arati's husband, Subrata (Anil Chatterjee, The Cloud-Capped Star), has found a job in a local bank. But Subrata's father, Priyogopal (Haren Chatterjee), a retired teacher, does not think that his son is making enough to support the family. Subrata's mother, Sarojini (Sefalika Devi), is simply happy that her son is working.
Eventually, Subrata also realizes that the only way the family will be able to continue living in Calcutta is if Arati also gets a job. Without telling Priyogopal, he sends his wife to a local company where she is interviewed and quickly offered a job as a sales girl. But when the excited Arati shares the good news with Priyogopal the atmosphere in the house changes dramatically.
Satyajit Ray's powerful drama The Big City offers a fascinating look at two opposing life philosophies in a county in transition. In the first the role of the married Indian woman is very simple – she is expected to be a mother and housewife. She has important responsibilities in the house, but not outside of it. This is the type of role Subrata's father wants for his daughter-in-law. In the second the Indian woman can make important decisions that can have an impact on the entire family. She is still expected to support her husband, but she does not automatically accept his views; she can question and even dismiss them. This is the type of role Arati earns for herself after she is successfully hired as a sales girl by an ambitious businessman.
Ray's camera follows closely Arati as she undergoes an important character transformation and tries to serve as a mediator between her husband and his father. The dilemmas she faces as well as the clash of ideas she witnesses at work and at home are always easy to understand. Her personal views are also clearly identified.
The persistent clarity of the conflicts is arguably the film's biggest strength. Because there is no overdramatizing, Ray makes it incredibly easy to sympathize with the main characters and know exactly how they feel when they question each other. Indeed, their disappointments are the type of disappointments families all over the world have experienced.
Young screenwriter Roy (Soumitra Chatterjee, Charulata, The Golden Fortress) embarks on a research trip through the Indian countryside. When his car breaks down near a small town, a wealthy tea planter (Haradhan Bannerjee, Mahanagar) invites him to spend the night in his lavish home.
When Roy enters the tea planter's home, he is shocked to discover that his beautiful wife (Madhabi Mukherjee, Charulata, Calcutta 71) is a woman he was once madly in love with. The planter's wife also recognizes Roy but treats him as a complete stranger.
Throughout the night the planter, his wife and their guest have drinks and food. The planter does most of the talking – among other things he argues that that Bengali directors can no longer make exciting films and that the people have started ignoring important traditions. Roy casually agrees with everything his host has to say, but cannot stop thinking about his wife.
After several drinks, the planter finally falls asleep. Barely able to contain his excitement, Roy tries to talk to his wife and explain to her that even after all these years he still thinks about her. Assuming that she is unhappy with her life, he also tells her that if she gives him a second chance together they could create the family they once dreamed about. But the wife is reluctant to trust Roy.
On the following day, the planter offers to drive Roy to a nearby train station. He also invites his unusually quiet wife to accompany him. On a dusty road, they take a break, and the planter again falls asleep after a few quick drinks. Having spent the entire night thinking about the past, Roy makes a decisive move.
A smooth jazz score, plenty of whisky, and late-night conversations about cinema and relationships. Indeed, The Coward feels like an exotic film John Cassavetes would have directed, not the great Bengali master Satyajit Ray.
The Coward tiptoes the fine line that separates romance from drama but it has the type of quiet intensity one would typically discover in Alfred Hitchcock's films. The viewer's initial impression is that the dilemmas the main protagonists are presented with are fairly simple, but then a series a flashbacks change the entire complexion of the film.
In Ray's best films, the men are typically strong, highly-motivated individuals, and the women agree with them even when they do not fully agree with them. But this is the way things should be – there is a certain balance of powers in these films that is accepted and respected by both sides. This isn't the case in The Coward. The old order of things is still present, but the balance of powers is different. Important decisions are now made independently, suggesting that there are new dynamics in the relationships between men and women.
The final sequence at the train station is absolutely brilliant. After it there are two standard outcomes that make perfect sense. But there is also a third one, which is incredibly bold. It makes the film's title sound quite ironic.
The Big City Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in aspect ratios of 1.33:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted 1080p transfers, Satyajit Ray's The Big City (Mahanagar) and The Coward (Kapurush) arrive on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The screencaptures included with this review appear in the following order:
1. The Big City: Screencaptures #1-19.
2. The Coward: Screencaptures #20-29.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray release:
"This new digital transfer (for The Big City) was produced from a restoration undertaken by RDB Entertainments, under the supervision of Kamal Bansal and Varsha Bansal. For their restoration, a transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original 35mm camera negative and a 35mm print at Pixion in Chennai, India. Due to several instances of severe warps in the original negative, a few sections were replaced using original 35mm safety fine grain belonging to the Academy Film Archive. The original monaural soundtrack was restored from the original sound negative.
Project supervisor: Mr. Balaji/Pixion, Chennai, India.
Lead restorers: Mr. Chandrashekhar, Mr. Kiran/Pixion.
Colorists: Mr. Mathews/John Tharyil/Pixion."
The restorations and presentations of the two films are very good. As it was the case with the recently released Charulata, which was also restored by RDB Entertainments, there are dramatic improvements in every single area we typically address in our reviews, from detail to image depth to contrast stability to overall fluidity. The few outdoor sequences, in particular, look remarkably vibrant and healthy, despite the fact that the original camera negative wasn't in perfect condition. Some minor contrast fluctuations are present during select indoor sequences where light is restricted, but image depth is always very pleasing (see screencapture #2). Where some fading has occurred, stabilization improvements have been made to re-balance the image as best as possible. There are no traces of problematic degraining corrections. However, during the stabilization improvements some appropriate adjustments have been made. Edge-enhancement is never an issue of concern. There are no serious stability issues. Also, there are absolutely no debris, cuts, warps, or stains to report in this review. All in all, The Big City has a solid and very healthy organic look.
The high-definition transfer for The Coward has been sourced from the same recent restoration of the film Artificial Eye were able to access when they prepared their Blu-ray release in the United Kingdom. I did some direct comparison between the two releases and they look virtually identical.
(Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray release. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
The Big City Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two standard audio tracks on this Blu-ray release: Bengali LPCM 1.0 for The Big City and Bengali Dolby Digital 1.0. for The Coward. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for each film.
The lossless track has good depth and at times even surprisingly good fluidity. However, you should not expect to hear a well rounded and consistently lush audio - many of the limitations of the film's original sound design are quite obvious (see the mob sequence). However, the dialog is clean, pleasingly stable, and easy to follow. Also, there is no heavy background hiss, distortions, or audio dropouts to report in this review.
The Coward comes only with a lossy track. Here depth is probably not as impressive as it is on the lossless track from the Artificial Eye Blu-ray release, but I think that only people who have both discs might be able to tell. The most obvious discrepancies are during the few jazzy themes, but even there the overall dynamic movement and depth on both tracks are fairly similar.
The Big City Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Big City Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
This release should make fans of Satyajit Ray's work very happy. It contains two excellent films: The Big City and The Coward. The latter is substantially shorter, which is why it is offered as a bonus, but I think that it is far more effective. Both films have been recently restored by RDB Entertainments and look terrific on Blu-ray. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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