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Beauty in the Movies: Mahanagar

Ok, so with my new job I’ve been pretty busy and have to squeeze blog-time in before bed (which usually doesn’t happen). As a result, Beauty in the Movies is going to be a little paired down for a while, I’m still going to feature great movies, just with fewer details depending on how hectic things are.

Today I am featuring a fantastic film that a lot of people might not be familiar with—Satyajit Ray’s Mahanagar (its English title is The Big City).

Arati Mazumder is a typical Indian housewife, living in early 1960s Calcutta, and taking care of not only her husband and child but her young sister-in-law and her husband’s parents as well. When her husband unexpectedly loses his job, she attempts to save the family by taking a position as a sewing machine sales woman.

Having a career quickly leads to a sense of liberation for Arati, especially when she meets an Anglo-Indian woman at work who introduces her to cat eye sunglasses, lipstick and the realities of discrimination.

Like all of Ray’s films, this one has excellent characters that are endearing, relatable and multidimensional. He had a talent for taking simple stories and making them incredibly meaningful without depending on drama or sentimentality.

For Arati, lipstick becomes symbolic of her empowerment, she applies it before attempting to ask for a raise or make a sales pitch. It is not a form of vanity for her, but a source of courage and change.


I highly recommend this film, it’s entertaining, moving, and uplifting too.  It’s a film with a strong feminist theme, but it doesn’t hit you over the head with its message, or sacrifice entertainment for the sake of it. Mahanagar is a familiar, deceptively simple story, but in its own way it’s timeless and still incredibly relevant today.

Beauty in the Movies: Mahanagar


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Beauty in the Movies: Moulin Rouge!

After visiting Paris last week and walking past the infamous nightclub on a daily basis I haven’t been able to get this film out of my head. Add that to the suggestion for Beauty in the Movies by Sarah a couple of weeks ago in the comments and I knew I had to feature Baz Luhrmann’s uniquely beautiful movie-musical Moulin Rouge! as my film this week.


When young idealist writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) comes to the Monmartre section of Paris during the turn of the last century, he is seeking a bohemian adventure of truth, beauty, freedom and most of all love. What he finds however is a vagabond group of performers producing a show for Harold Zidler’s (Jim Broadbent) brothel/nightclub—The Moulin Rouge. Among the troupe is Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo) who is greatly impressed by Christian’s talents and begs him to help pen their new show, Spectacular Spectacular. After resisting his father’s voice in his head warning him of the evils of the bohemian lifestyle, Christian agrees to sign on as the new writer.

The following evening at the Moulin Rouge, due to a dance of mistaken identity Christian meets the star of the club, Satine (Nicole Kidman), who believes he is in fact a wealthy Duke. But while Satine has been entertaining and falling in love with the penniless writer, she has unknowingly neglected the Duke who also happens to be the Moulin’s biggest investor. After a good deal of singing and dancing Satine finally manages to dupe the Duke (Richard Roxburgh) into believing he is the object of her desire and convinces him to fund the new play by the brilliant young writer Christian—the man she actually loves, thus setting up a doomed love triangle. Unfortunately the Duke holds the deeds to the Moulin Rouge and if she refuses to sleep with him on opening night he will surely close the nightclub leaving Satine, Zidler and the rest of the performers with nothing. So, what’s a girl to do?

What I find interesting about the character of Satine is that she is essentially an object to all those around her. She is even given the nickname “The Sparkling Diamond”, a thing of beauty to be bought, rather than a living woman. The Duke, Zidler, the men at the Moulin, and even Christian to an extent think of her as a thing to be had and kept, fought over and won, rather than a woman who can make her own choices. Ultimately the cruel joke is on her admirers because unlike a diamond she is fragile and in the end, nothing more than mortal. If those who claimed to love her had spent less time battling to posses her they might have realized she was already owned by a far graver master.

I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to the art direction in this film, I will use the word glorious because this is a rare situation where it seems fully appropriate. Catherine Martin acted as art director and designed the gorgeous costumes as well, she won well-deserved Academy Awards on both counts. Martin also happens to be Baz Luhrmann’s wife, obviously the two make an incredible pair and I hope they make many more movies together.

Whoever had the idea to make a movie-musical using pieces of songs from bands as diverse as The Beatles and Nirvana was absolutely brilliant. Not only is it entertaining to hear songs we’re all familiar with used in different ways, but by mixing them together the pieces are recreated in to something new and in many cases create something better than the original. Personally I’ve never been a big Elton John fan, but I’ve had the Moulin Rouge! version of “Your Song” in my itunes rotation for years and love every second of it—and not just because it’s sung by the incredibly adorable Ewan McGregor.

Everything about this film is over the top, the saturated colors the elaborate sets and the boisterous acting, so you would think it wouldn’t be able to pack an emotional punch, but somehow it does. The film starts off with pure insanity, the camera ducks and zooms to the point of dizziness, the characters at times seem unruly and strange, shouting, laughing and buzzing with pure energy. As the film progresses it appears to slow, the juxtaposition of bawdy with serious only makes the emotion that much more jarring. By the showstopping finale, time has seemingly stopped and the audience is left with a heartbreaking conclusion that seems shocking despite the warning of impending doom given in the first few minutes of the film.

Moulin Rouge! is a movie-musical, but it’s very unlike any other musical out there. While it’s over the top and theatrical it doesn’t have the hokey feeling often found in Broadway shows—I’m not knocking Broadway, just pointing out what a feat it is to create a musical that deviates so far from the standard. Moulin Rougue! is a film with everything that can be enjoyed by everyone. If you’ve already seen it, with the extravagant sets and performances, there is always something new to discover the next time you watch it.

Beauty in the Movies: Moulin Rouge!

Beauty in the Movies: Moulin Rouge! by justinez on Polyvore.com

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