It is " Mahanagar"(1963) that , for the first time, we come across a woman who awakens to the possibility of determining the course of her own life. Typically enough, the awakening touch comes from the husband, for men have traditionally liberated, just as they have enslaved, women. But traditionally too, they have retrackted when they have seen the consequence of their action. It is the husband who mentions to his somewhat timid wife the possibility of her wirking for a while in order to tide over certain financial difficulties. Arati rises to the challenge; with all her apparent shakiness she is strong and sincere, and makes a success of her job-success that goes a little to her head, like a first taste of champagne. With nostrils flared, she shows her money first to herself in the bathroom mirror, and then to her husband. She offers some, with a conspicuous lack of grace, to her father-in-law who needs money for new spectacles, but does not approve of her working for them. It is her own sense of independence that gives her the strength to resign when her Anglo-Indian friend is eased out by the boss. In the simplicity of her indignation at the slander. Arati produces the resignation letter her husban had drafted when he found her growing so independent. In the mean time he has lost his job and is trying to reach her and prevent her from resigning.
As the traditional middle-class housewife finding a new worth in herself, Madhabi Mukherjee is the perfect embodiment of the woman, torn between self-abnegation and self-respect. Even her looks are of the housewife lost in her chores who has secretly in her somewhere, all the enticing mystery of woman
The family life is vividly brought out, full of cross-currents between its members of three generations cramped into the three rooms
The camaraderie of sales girls, developed within the privacy of the restroom and largely in their reflections in a mirror, is a first essay to be further developed in "Ashani Sanket". It is in the large mirror really first sees herself in a new light, as an independent person, no longer defined solely by her relationship with the men who rule her life. She embraces the female company avidly, finding in them a warm supportiveness she has not encountered before. The fact that she is drawn to a warm relationship with the Anglo-Indian girl Edith, who could not have been more different from Arati in her habitual independence. The mirroe vanishes, as it were, when she resigns her job ; but something of the image she had seen in it persistists, and reveals itself in her sense of equal reponsibility for the family, along with her husband, at the end of the film. As an essay on the emergence of the new woman in India, " Mahanagar" is a work of a very subtle and delicate perception, guided by a fine sense of identity with the female protagonist for which Ray must have summoned up feeling from the depths of androgyny within himself as an artist.