Nothing comes close to maternal love and the pain of a mother whose kids have been taken away from her forcefully on the pretext of improper parenting. The official list of charges against her include reasons like sleeping in the same bed, hand-feeding her kids and applying kohl on their faces to ward off evil eye. She is called mad, unstable and unfit to be a mother, but she will fight against all odds to get her kids back. That’s the ordeal Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway takes us through. Based on a true story of Sagarika Chakraborty’s and adapted from her autobiography The Journey of a Mother, the film is a heart-wrenching tale of a couple whose both children were separated from them by the Norwegian Childcare system in 2011. Starring Rani Mukerji in the titular role as the shattered and helpless mother who stands tall against the system, this Ashima Chibber directorial is emotionally charged, albeit an unbalanced premise and flawed execution that can’t be overlooked completely. Also read: Rani Mukerji says Aditya Chopra was shocked on watching Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway
The story starts with Debika Chatterjee (Rani Mukerji) who moved to Norway 12 years ago with husband Anirudh Chatterjee (Anirban Bhattacharya). They have two kids — son Shubh and daughter Suchi. For last four months, members of the Child Welfare Service called Velfred, have been visiting their house for inspection and to ensure kids are adequately being looked after and one day, the authorities just take the kids away and put them up with foster parents. Debika tries everything she can think of — from screaming, shouting, fighting in the district court to even abducting her own kids from a government facility, but all in vain. During this fight, she even learns about the scam that authorities are running in the name of child welfare and tries to expose the whole foster parents scheme. But does she get her kids back? Does she lose more in this battle than she wins?
The story co-written by Chibber, Sameer Satija and Rahul Handa has its heart and intent at the right place but it’s the execution at many places that holds it back from striking the chord. The emotionally charged moments don’t stay for long and lose impact sooner that you can process what just happened. The first half remains scattered and it’s only by the interval that Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway gets its grip right. At 135 minutes, the film is tightly edited and doesn’t digress from the actual subject. However, there are several tracks that we are introduced to during the course of Debika’s legal battle but most don’t find closure. For instance, what happens to the divorce? Why does Debika’s in-laws aren’t on her side? what was the background story about domestic violence case? Why didn’t the Indian law intervene sooner than it should have?
The characters in the film are pretty one-dimensional where you feel empathetic for the good ones and keep hating the bad ones. After a point, you realise it’s not Mrs Charrerjee Vs Norway but a lot more. It’s Mrs Chatterjee Vs her in-laws, her husband, mothers of other kids in school, misogyny and deep-rooted patriarchy. Yet, her relentless efforts fighting this legal battle move you to tears.
Rani Mukerji showcases a myriad of emotions, and leaves a lump in your throat with her sense of pain and agony. While in parts, she is totally in control of her actions, at some places, she totally goes overboard in expressing her suffering. That balance, I felt, somewhere was needed. Agreed it’s not easy to be in control of your actions and reactions while fighting something as sensitive as your kids’ custody but watching her pain onscreen should have been more hard-hitting that end up being a loud rendering of dialogues. As a middle-class Bengali housewife, she is very convincing but her Bengali lines and accent does interfere with the emotions at times. As her husband, Anirban Bhattacharya delivers an earnest performance and evokes the dislike that his character is meant to. He never overpowers Rani but manages to make his presence felt. Interestingly, characters with limited screen time are the ones that totally stand out. Daniel Chiupek Singh (Jim Sarbh), a lawyer of Indian descent practising in Norway plays a crucial part and has some impactful lines. Back in India, Debika’s counsel in Kolkata played by Balaji Gauri is exceptionally good and it’s a shame she was ingested in the storyline so late. She puts up strong arguments and even brings a bit of a humourous relief to the otherwise serious tone of the film, though not at the cost of sounding frivolous. In fact, her exchange of words with Jim Sarbh remain the high point of the film and both deliver cheer-worthy lines inviting applause from the audience. Neena Gupta has the smallest ever cameo which is powerful and pivotal at the same time as it gives a new direction to Debika’s fight.
Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway remains a true-to-heart account of a gut-wreching story of a mother but there are so many layers you wish the director dug deeper and explored with the main character. Nevertheless, I was surprised in the end that such a strong and moving story waited for over a decade to be made into a film. Watch it for a brilliant performance from Rani and keep a box of tissue handy for there are plenty tear-jerking moments.
Film: Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway
Cast: Rani Mukerji, Anirban Bhattacharya, Jim Sarbh, Balaji Gauri, Neena Gupta
Director: Ashima Chibber