The 1960s in Film: Mahanagar (1963)

Mahanagar is Satyajit Ray’s 1963 film on a housewife who becomes a working-woman due to circumstances and is a critique of traditional Bengali society as well as a changing middle class India.  I meant this to be a 1960s fashions in film post but was puzzled by parts of the film and then found that the film is set in 1955.  Nevertheless I will blog on it to show how a movie made in 1963 might look at a decade earlier. To be frank the clothing looks like a mixture of the 50s and 60s – something you would expect in the early 60s – but Ray is usually particular about details. So I will take it that even if the shifts in a decade, especially in middle class homes, are minor these are incorporated in the film. It is also a good example of what ordinary women actually wore as opposed to what constituted “fashion” for a decade.

Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee) is first introduced as a housewife.  In the first part of the film, she is in a sari styled Bengali style. This is worn with a blouse with little ruffles on the sleeve which is a little old fashioned.  The sari is draped over the head in the presence of elders and this is true even for the later parts of the film where Arati is in a sari worn in the modern pan-Indian style.

Arati’s working wardrobe is expectedly saris. She wears the modern sari drape, the saris are by and large printed cottons or Bengal handlooms and in one scene what looks like a printed silk. These are not always “matched”, there are dotted blouses, bordered blouses and the like. Given her age and marital status, Arati has a low coiled bun (from at least one scene it appears that it is the actress’ own hair casually piled up). Given her lower middle class background, her jewellery is very simple. The same earrings and chain feature throughout the movie.

In a number of scenes, Arati’s bra is clearly visible under the blouse. This is a bit puzzling – it is rarely seen in other characters in the film and generally 50s blouses are not the kind that make the undergarment visible.  Maybe it was common amongst working women in Kolkata or maybe it was a conscious choice, it is difficult for me to say.  Likewise with the broad neck for her blouses, which I see very rarely in the 50s.

Or the sleeveless blouse on various minor characters who play well off upscale housewives in the film.  This always seems very 60s to me – I can’t recall it in the few Bengali films of the 1950s that I have seen – but perhaps it was common in Calcutta.  Some ribbon spotting – as can be seen in pic 3, its a ribbon for presumably a ponytail. I like details like that, differing hairstyles on characters:)

Arati’s colleagues also wear saris with the modern drape.  Though far more worldly than Arati, their wardrobes are not very far from what she adopts as a working woman. Some of these blouses looked a bit 50s to me.  The coiled hair at the nape I think is also fairly 1950s. This was what caused me some confusion- I wasn’t sure whether the setting was the 50s or that change was slow in many middle class families so essentially you would not be seeing the dramatic changes in each decade that you see in some of my posts.

One of Arati’s colleagues is Anglo-Indian. Edith first shows up in a full skirt which I at least think of as very 1950s (she teams it with a shirt which is monogrammed E). Thereafter she wears a few shift dresses, apparently not that uncommon in the 1950s. As well as an at-home housecoat. Her clothing is impeccable, not in the least bit like versions you see in some 60s movies (like they were run up by a local darzi (tailor) not trained in making western clothes). Edith is also responsible for a few contemporray fashions Arati adopts – e.g. the lipstick and sunglasses she presents her.

Arati’s sister-in-law, Bani (Jaya Bhanduri),  is a teenager. In most scenes she is in a frock. This was quite common – and perhaps even more so amongst the Bengalis if we go by Qurratulain Hyder’s book set in the 1930s. The frock is also seen on a young girl in a house Arati visits.  Arati’s first pay goes towards buying Bani a sari – I think it is tied in a style common for young Bengali women – if a Bengali reader can confirm this it would be helpful.

More than a few of the men in the film are in the sort of pan-Indian attire that was around in the early part of the 20th century.  Arati’s husband for e.g. wears a jacket with a dhoti. A few characters – e.g. Arati’s boss – appear in Western suits.

In sum I am still a bit confused about the exact time period of the film. It seems very early 60s to me  but I have to go with the many synopses that provide a mid 1950s date!

About Anu M

A potted history of Indian clothing and fashion.
This entry was posted in 1950s, 1960s, 20th century, Actor, Bengal, Cinema, Film Costuming, Indian Cinema, Indian Dress, Indian fashion, Indian men, Indian Women, Movies, Sari, Sari Blouse, sari history, Vintage Blouse, vintage fashion, vintage sari, Working Women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The 1960s in Film: Mahanagar (1963)

  1. Saba-Thambi says:

    Reblogged this on SABAS LOG and commented:
    An interesting look at the attire worn in Bengali films 60 years sgo

  2. I am always blown away by Madhabi’s incandescent beauty! Thanks Anu

    • Anu M says:

      Yup can’t take one’s eyes off her. Charulata is still my most favourite-I watch it now and then just to look at Soumitra (surely the most good looking of all Indian actors) and her!

  3. yogamardi says:

    I agree! Satyajit Ray, Madhabi and all things Bengali… (Charulata also my favourite). Beautiful and evocative stills… Thank you Anu x

    • Anu M says:

      My pleasure Mardi. I love Bengal..pretty sure I am a quarter Bengali somewhere:)

      Loved your post on tapas and the accompanying pictures.

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