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Big city, diminutive hero

PostPosted: Wed Apr 30, 2008 10:07 am
by manikjethu
What happens when the housewife in a lower middle class household in the Calcutta (I prefer to still call it that instead of the more nativist Kolkata) of the turbulent 1960s decide to take up a salesgirl's job to help her husband make ends meet? All hell breaks loose. Worse still, the husband, already a lowly paid accountant in a private bank, loses his job when the bank crashes (remember, those were the days before Prime Minister Indira Gandhi nationalised a host of private banks). In a resounding blow to his sense of self-respect, he is forced to ask his wife not to submit her letter of resignation to her boss when he finds out that his bank has closed forever; feeling outdone by her, he had made her write the letter just the night before.
If such is the condition of the hero, then what about the villain? On face, the metropolis itself appears villainous. The work environment is cruel and unfriendly.
The old father is supremely offended when his dutiful daughter-in-law goes out to work. But he doesn't think twice before complaining to his now successful students about his son and begging sundry favors from them, his self-respect thrown to the winds. This groundless lower middle class pride reveals itself as a bigger villain.
In the end, the wife, miffed at her boss for sacking a colleague, throws her job at his face. Together with her husband, she finds hope in the same big city that has let them down.
MAHANAGAR, the first of the Master's four Calcutta films, paints a gloomy picture of that period. It also most accurately depicts how the Bengali lower middle class, despite its failings, somehow coped with things as they were during that time.