The Big City (Mahanaga) (PG)
This first meeting of writer-director Satyajit Ray and Madhabi Mukherjee, one of Bengali cinema's most beloved actresses, is often overlooked in favour of their subsequent collaboration, Charulata (The Lonely Wife). However, The Big City is every bit as masterful as its more celebrated companion piece. In both films Mukherjee plays an independently-minded woman who begins to emerge from her husband's shadow. The Big City, however, is perhaps the more radical of the two as it shows her becoming her family's main breadwinner in economically deprived 1950s Calcutta. This is a film with a social consciousness, which tackles issues of unemployment, exploitation and social prejudice, as well as women's rights; but it plays like a delightfully breezy domestic comedy, full of generosity towards its all-toohuman characters. Only a world-class cast and a filmmaker as great as Ray (who also wrote the score) could make this kind of thing look effortless.