At the beginning of Satyajit Ray’s 1963 film The Big City, Subrata “Bhombol” Mazumdar (Anil Chatterjee) returns home from his job at a Kolkata bank and discovers that his wife, Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee), has borrowed tea from a neighbor. In light of their financial difficulties — he’s the sole breadwinner for a household consisting of four adults, a teenager and a child — he finds the act embarrassing. “What choice do I have?” Arati asks. “If you don’t have your tea when you get home, you kick up a fuss.” Subrata has to admit that she’s right, yet he looks and sounds rather dubious when he adds, “You pay no attention to appearances.” It’s a brief exchange, a matter of seconds, seemingly incidental. Shortly thereafter, he prepares to go out again in hopes of collecting payment from a student he tutors. While he combs his hair, Arati can be seen reflected in the mirror, although her image is repeatedly obscured by her husband’s elbow. Again, this is a minor thing, so subtle as to be almost unnoticeable, but like the conversation about the tea, it foreshadows much of what will follow.
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