The role of women in the workplace isn’t just a question that permeates the United States. It is a question and a debate that is prevalent around the world. But each society approaches the answers differently due to their religious or social beliefs. Some cultures have always had men working alongside women in everything from their source of income to the household duties. While other cultures still condemn women from venturing outside of the house to even go grocery shopping. But most cultures usually lie somewhere in the middle. In Mahanagar (or The Big City), Satyajit Ray explores this debate by showing the story of a housewife in India, deciding to take a job outside of the house because of financial concerns.

Arati manages a household full of extended family. She not only has her husband and son, but also his parents and his kid sister who is studying at school still. Her husband has a job at a bank and money is tight. She decides after discussing matters with her husband to get a job. From the start it is understood that it would be a temporary situation until he can get a raise. She becomes a salesperson and she goes from house to house selling a knitting machine. She takes to her work immediately and becomes quite good at it. She also makes a friend with an Anglo-Indian woman who is more independently minded. This Anglo-Indian stands up for herself and wears lipstick, something that Arati has never done except for maybe on her wedding day. She starts to earn more money than her husband when he loses his job. However the idea of her having the sole income in the family shames the more conservative minded grandparents. They freeze her out and turn her child against her. The loss of the job bruises her husband’s ego and he spirals into a depression. Everything culminates in an altercation with her boss after he fires her Anglo-Indian friend for seemingly nothing.

What I loved about this film is the strength shown in Arati’s character. No matter how low things get for her and her family, she is strong and she is there for them. She also isn’t blinded by the pursuit of money in order to see what is right and what is wrong. This is shown in contrast to the men in her life. Her father in law goes around begging his former students for free glasses and money by condemning his son. Her husband is in fact blinded by the need to earn money that he can’t see the warning signs that his bank is about to fail. Arati bares the freeze out, the condemning of her father in law’s students and her child becoming resentful of her not being there for him at all times with a strength one finds when they discover something they love doing. Although at the end of the film, she has lost her job and her husband hadn’t found one for himself yet, there is a sense of hope. They will get through this trying time and they will emerge better for it. At least I hope they do…


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