Tough times and a changing world put pressure on a lower-middle-class family in mid-1950s Calcutta in Satyajit Ray’s 1963 film ‘The Big City’ – screening at BFI Southbank as part of a two-month Ray season. When bank clerk Subrata (Anil Chatterjee) struggles to support his elderly parents and young family on a bank clerk’s wages, his wife Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee) takes a job as a saleswoman with an electrical goods company, much to her ailing father-in-law’s dismay and with the reluctant support of her husband. Matters turn worse when Subrata loses his job during a financial crash.
Ray’s style is direct, realist and sympathetic, and only in the closing moments does he pull back to show the wider city. Before then, his eye is firmly and compassionately on the feelings and behaviour of his various strongly drawn characters. He’s especially good at charting Arati’s awakening to a new world in parallel with Subrata’s increasing sense of confusion – all without judgment or scorn. In the end, Ray offers a strong argument for solidarity at work and home in the face of threatening circumstances.