Synopsis – An immigrant Indian mother’s battle against the Norwegian foster care system and local legal machinery to win back the custody of her children.
My Take – While Indian cinema has produced a plethora of over-dramatic films based on the bond of a mother and her child, just a few months ago saw the release of the heart wrenching Salaam Venky (2022), yet any story that centered around a mother’s relentless fight to be reunited with her children is bound to pull at heartstrings.
Based on the book ‘The Journey of a Mother’ by Sagarika Chakraborty, an Indian woman who, while living in Norway in 2011, saw her two young children taken from her by the state for no apparent reason. Deemed unfit to look after them and mentally unstable, Sagarika took the nation’s government to court, making headlines, as she fought against the Norwegian authorities to get back custody of her children. The entire issue had even caused a diplomatic row between India and Norway.
With a such tough subject in hand, the onscreen adaption directed by Ashima Chibber (Mere Dad Ki Maruti), who co-wrote the film with Sameer Satija and Rahul Handa, is expectedly bold, heart-rending and thankfully, equally engrossing. Acting as a true testimony of a mother’s compassion, her love and affection towards her own children, the film is a hard-hitting human drama filled with pain with sentiments working overtime.
Yes, it has its own flaws and tends to be an emotionally soaking experience by all means, but well bolstered by an astounding Rani Mukerji performance and a powerful screenplay which stays true to its subject in its entirety, the film ends up providing ample moments of melancholy and joy.
The story follows Debika Chatterjee (Rani Mukerji), a young Bengali housewife, who a few years ago migrates to Norway with her husband, Aniruddha Chatterjee (Anirban Bhattacharya). Grappling with motherhood since the birth of her two children Shubh and Suchi, and a life in a new country, Debika prefers to retain her Indian roots and wears them on her sleeve, even as her husband adapts to the Norwegian language and their norms.
However, her life is shattered when their children are taken away by officers of Velfred, a child welfare service, who after visiting their house for a few weeks, ended up submitting a report stating that both parents are not capable of raising their children and whisk away them away without any tact or concern.
Moreover, even the courts fail to deliver the desired justice, as Debika gets blamed for being negligent and mentally unstable. Yet, even when her close ones end up betraying her, Debika’s never-ending spirit of a mother keeps her going, as she takes up a fight that sees her going alone against everyone to get her children back from the Norwegian Foster Care System.
Here, director Ashima Chibber truly captures the anxiety and restlessness of a mother without being peachy and over the top. She keeps you engrossed whenever the film is dealing with the clash between the hurt mother and the heartless system guided by regulations and completely indifferent to cultural differences.
She get the emotions right and you do end up sympathizing with the mother and her deep pain for being separated from her children. It helps that the film is loaded with drama, crowd-pleasing dialogue, and stereotypes. The Norwegian childcare women keep making evil faces to show that they are the bad guys.
Yes, the film is slightly uneven. But it is the story that is the biggest winner of this heart-wrenching story. Sure, there is melodrama, but the film’s core story is such that it keeps you hooked. After all, a mother’s love for her children is well known yet it makes for a heartwarming story every single time.
The film also deals with cultural differences between the two nations and their respective versions of how homes should be and how children should be reared. In one particular scene, Debika argues about how one can feed a child fish curry and rice with a fork- a dish that is a staple in every Bengali household.
The food that the children are fed, or the families eat, and the reactions of the characters in the middle of arguments are all very accurate to a common Indian family. That way the film is consistent in creating the right environment. It shows how difficult it is to be an immigrant in a different country and learning to adapt their culture and practices while leaving your own identity just to fit in.
The only fault I could find the film is how it is predominantly in service of Debika’s struggle, and does Aniruddha no favors. He is obsessed with his citizenship application, which is mentioned repeatedly in the script. He is barely moved when the children are suddenly whisked away by a mercenary organization claiming to be concerned about the welfare of these kids. He has little respect and fleeting affection for his wife, blaming her for this debacle.
Then of course, the film has been modeled to allow Rani Mukherjee deliver one of her career’s best performances. Mukerji has been off-late in not only mixing & choosing different scripts but also nailing each one of them. Here, her acting is so raw and natural that it leaves one teary eyed and yearning for more.
In his Hindi film debut, Anirban Bhattacharya does his best, in spite of being saddled with a character designed to be unlikable. Jim Sarbh‘s restrained portrayal gives the film its finest moments. The courtroom sequences in particular feature a scene-stealing performance by Balaji Gauri.
In other roles, Barun Chanda, Bodhisatva Majumdar, Mithu Chakraborty and Saswati Guhathakurta are good, with Neena Gupta appearing in a brief cameo. On the whole, ‘Mrs. Chatterjee vs Norway’ is a heart-wrenching and emotionally soaking drama anchored by Rani Mukerji‘s astounding performance.
Directed – Ashima Chibber
Starring – Rani Mukerji, Anirban Bhattacharya, Jim Sarbh
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 133 minutes