Being a Keralite, it's only right that I watch Malayalam cinema and then Hindi. I have done so since quite some time. So 'planning' to watch a Bengali film was not in the works. Nevertheless, one of my favourite hobbies is to list movie makers of yesteryear,who made a difference to their art by their courage,whims and 'wierdness'. Which in turn becomes gold,adulterated only by poor replicas.
Mahanagar is a movie about a 1960 middle-class Bengali family's reactions to their daughter-in-law going to work. Also, it's about the woman's shedding of skin to conquer her fears and the cocoon she leaves behind. Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee) is a cheerful mother of a small son and manages a family where no one is demanding. Jaya Bhaduri is the mousy but endearing sister-in-law.The husband Subrata (Anil Chatterjee) is also non-fussy and apparently witty.
So its a household that isn't at war,stretched at ends or sly stories at corners. In this mild pond the ripples begin when expenses pinch Subrata. When Arati suggests her support by working,he doesn't mind (either he doesn't believe she will get or he doesn't prepare for how to deal with it). He even puts in his one liners which probably is the sprinkling of humour in the film.
'Should I sign the application form?' she asks
'Who else, Lady Mountbatten?' says Subrata. Mind you, without smiling even. (sarcasm eh!)
Thus Subrata and Arati march on to the next phase in life, a phase solely focused by Indian families - when the wife leaves house to work. The in-laws are upset, not angry or bitchy. Just that the order of the medicine-bringing woman and in-the-kitchen lady isn't there. Even the son is not happy that the bosom where he rests on, wont be available from 9 to 5.
Eventually, the complexes start trickling in. Surprisingly not the in-laws but the well-educated Bernard Shaw quoting Subrata.
From teasing Arati about what Shaw says about over-worked women to shocked on seeing her in a cafe with a paraya man, Subrata cannot decipher this sun shades spotting,lipstick in bag (not on lips..she still doesn't dare), coming-in-late wife of his who now is the only earning member of the family. Yeah he loses his job so double the wrinkles.
The movie isnt just about a family's perceptions to these changes. There is an office environment where the boss is ambitious,not sleazy though and a Anglo Indian colleague who is kind hearted and not flimsy. The film breaks through stereotypes ever so gently that you almost miss it.
Mahanagar is not bold but courageous. It isn't feminist but about a woman's emancipation. It's not a family movie but about individuals who think,argue and feel together.
You dont need reasons to watch this epic. And not just women or husbands should watch it. Watch it to know togetherness of a different kind, frank discussion with parents, courage to put fears out in the open and of course to see Jaya Bachhan as the original guddi.