Lesson Plan—City of Joy

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Relevance to AP Human Geography

City of Joy takes place in India and is a colorful, action-packed story that can spark student indignation at the ways the characters are treated and the conditions in which people live, thus providing an emotional hook for studying geographic themes and the concepts connected to each.

The film follows the experience of a family that migrates from a rural area to an urban area looking for work and opportunity. Through this story line, the film offers the chance to discuss the spatial characteristics of cultural identity, urbanization, development, migration, and the impact of colonization, which correspond to topics in the Course Description.

Commonalities of City of Joy and the Course Description

The following quotations come from the 2006, 2007 AP® Human Geography Course Description.



"[S]tudents may analyze the distribution of human population at different scales: global, continental, national, state, province, and local community. Explanations of why population is growing or declining in most places and not others center on understanding the process of fertility, mortality, and migration." (p. 6)


"The second subfield focuses on the form, internal structure, and landscapes of cities and emphasizes what cities are like as places in which to live and work." (p. 10)

"The study of European... East and South Asian . . . cities serves to illustrate how differing economic systems and cultural values can lead to variations on the spatial structures and landscapes of urban places." (p. 10)

"Students are introduced to such topics as the analysis of patterns of land use, racial and ethnic segregation, types of intracity transportation, [and] architectural traditions." (p. 10)


"Students also come to understand how culture is expressed in landscape and how landscape in turn represents cultural identity." (p. 8)


"The course also explores cultural differences at various scales according to language, religion, ethnicity, and gender." (p. 7)


Objectives for lessons will vary depending on the point during the course's progression when a film is introduced.

The Introduction or "Hook"

Explain to students that this film is based on the novel of the same name by Dominique Lapierre (included on many AP Human Geography reading lists). It was filmed in 1992 in a slum area of Calcutta (Kolkata).

Tell students that the film follows the journey of a rural family as they make the transition to urban life in Calcutta. Tell students that although the story is fictional, it deals with urban problems common to countries located in the periphery.

To prepare for the film, give students a map of India and have them:

  • " Label the 28 states of India
  • " Locate the latitude and longitude of Calcutta
  • " Describe the relative location

If you have access to Google Earth, have students use it to examine parts of India from an aerial perspective.

Direct students to this Web site: Calcutta: "Not the City of Joy"

Divide students into four groups. Have each group read and present one of the following sections related to the city of Calcutta:

  1. Physical and Human Geography through the section on Transportation
  2. Administration & Services and Urbanization Process
  3. Problems Associated with Development
  4. A Detailed Report on Air Pollution in Calcutta

The last two sections are located on a different page and can be accessed by selecting the link at the top of the main page where the other links for that page are listed.

Have each group read, discuss, and present their assigned section to the class. Encourage all groups to preview all of the material at this site. It will give them a better understanding of the city.

While students are on the Internet, direct them to a map of Calcutta like this one:


Ask students to click on the map to get an idea of the layout and location of the city. Also, have students view a regional map of India to locate West Bengal and Calcutta, such as: India 2001.

Before viewing the film, tell students that there are many regional differences within India. Point out that it is difficult to make generalizations about India because of the different levels of economic development within the country, but most of the issues in Calcutta put forth by the film are issues common not only to India but also to South Asia and most other countries of the periphery to varying degrees. Emphasize the impact of scale on characteristics of places.

While Watching the Film

Ask students to note any of the characteristics from their section of the reading that they observe in the film. Have them identify where in the film they see examples of industry, transportation, climate, and so forth.

There are several places in the film where teachers might want to stop the film to clarify the events. For example, students may have difficulty following the corruption/extortion plot in the film. If so, stop the film to clarify. Also, an explanation of the lepers might be necessary.


Ask students to discuss their reactions to the film. Give them an opportunity to share what they like or do not like about it.

Ask students to identify where and what in the film corresponds to the reading. What other geographic concepts are included in the film? Lead students to consider each of the following as they were shown in the film: corruption, transportation/infrastructure, economic activity, rituals, language, traditions, migration, gender differences, caste system, health care, and standard of living. Ask students what the movie suggests about each of these concepts. What options are available to correct inequities experienced by the characters in the film? Why did Hasari and his family not move back to their rural home? Ask students to speculate on how development policy impacts the conditions shown in the movie. What might be some causes of these conditions? Does the film make a statement about Hinduism? If so, explain. What clashes between east and west or rural and urban are shown in the film?

Concluding Activities


City of Joy can be incorporated into the population unit. For example, chapter 2 of The Cultural Landscape: An Introduction to Human Geography by James M. Rubenstein includes a comparison of population policies in India and China. You can use this film to prompt a discussion of population policies, followed by a discussion of the case study found on pages 66 and 67.

Ask students if they think the film accurately portrays population characteristics in India. Direct students to:

Population Reference Bureau: DataFinder—Search Population and Health Data.

At this site, have students select a variable for each of the categories that might verify or contradict conditions seen in the movie. Search for data on both China and India by clicking the Submit Query button at the bottom of the page. Suggested variables include Rate of Natural Increase; Secondary School Enrollment Female; GNI PPP Per Capita; Population Using Adequate Sanitation; HIV/AIDS Among Adult Population, Ages 15-49; Contraceptive Use Among Married Women, Ages 15-49; and Child Mortality Rate.

Ask students to compare their findings. Do the conditions dramatized in the film accurately reflect the data? Have students explore further by looking at the data for other countries in South Asia. Have students compare data for countries of the periphery and several core countries.

Finally, ask students to write a summary statement that discusses population change in India and whether this is accurately reflected in the film. Students should provide evidence by using information from the text, the film, and data from the PRB Web site.


Ask students to describe the urban landscape shown in the film. Direct students to:

Calcuttaweb.com: Kolkata (Calcutta)—History

Here they can view photos of the city. Emphasize the human impact on the landscape and dates on the photos. Ask students to consider influences they see in the architecture of the time. A time line is included to help students connect the landscape to a particular influence.

Students can also look at urbanization from a different perspective by exploring this UN site:

United Nations Human Settlements Programme

At this Web site, students can research programs and polices of this organization affecting specific urban areas. Ask students if these policies/programs would be effective options for people living in urban areas like Calcutta.


There are many discussions of landscapes in all of the major textbooks in the chapters on culture. Use the film to prompt research about the relationship between people and their environment.

Ask students to give examples of how landscapes reflect culture. Point out to students particular scenes in the film and discuss how culture is expressed. For instance, how are the values of the caste system visible in the landscape of the film?

Ask students to research the built environment of another city in another country and compare their findings with what they have learned about Calcutta. Ask students to collect photos for comparisons. Have students present their photos to the class along with an analysis of the cultural landscape.

Note: The script for the City of Joy is available at the following site and may be useful in classroom activities or as a reference:

City of Joy (.pdf/TKKB)

Mary Lynn Everhart teaches world geography and AP human geography at Bethel High School in Hampton, Virginia. She has been a geography teacher since 1998. She earned her graduate degree from Old Dominion University and her undergraduate degree from Christopher Newport University. She is a member of NCGE and Virginia Geographic Alliance. She also is a reviewer for the Green Teacher Magazine and a reader for the AP human geography exam. She has completed the APHG training with Martha Sharma in 2003 and has attended several national workshops for APHG teachers. As a teacher fellow with the Virginia Center for the Teaching of International Studies since 2002, she has participated in several professional development summer institutes and facilitated 2 workshops for teachers. She is currently a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards candidate. She has contributed to the Geography Teacher magazine.

Authored by

  • Mary Lynn Everhart
    Bethel High School
    Hampton, Virginia