Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway is a family legal drama film directed by Ashima Chibber. The film is the true story of an Indian couple, an adaptation based on Sagarika Chakraborty’s autobiography titled ‘The Journey of a Mother’; whose children were taken away from them by the Norwegian Childcare system (Barnevernet) in 2011.
The story is based on real life case with Sagarika Bhattacharya who was living with her husband Anup Bhattacharya with two children. They moved to Norway for a job. In 2011, their children were taken away by Barnevernet (also known as Norwegian Child Welfare Services) on ground of improper treatment of children. First, they appealed in a Norwegian court but failed. Later they appealed Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India to intervene. Before this Sagarika got separated from her husband and custody of the children were given to their father’s brother. In 2013, after she fought a two year long legal battle, she was granted custody by Calcutta High Court after intervention by the Indian Government.
Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway opens with the Norwegian authorities (Child Welfare Service called Velfred) forcefully taking away Debika Chatterjee’s (Rani Mukerji) children, elder son with signs of autism and little daughter who is still on breast feeding. A desperate Debika chases their vehicle but to no avail. Debika hints in a phone conversation with her parents that her husband (and his family) always refrain from spending money hence pursuing a legal battle seems distant. Also, Anirudh Chatterjee (Anirban Bhattacharya) seems more concerned about safeguarding himself and securing Norwegian citizenship rather than supporting his wife and taking familial responsibilities. The rest of the narrative is about how Debika, feeling let down from all sides, takes it up to herself and fights to get her children back.
For people who have dreamy eyes of settling in a foreign land, this film could prove to be an eye opener that our country India is the best on all counts. The later portion of the post interval session is what saves the film from swaying towards nowhere. Though it still isn’t enough but the way the proceeding is dramatized with the favourable and the opposing statements is balanced. The engaging & reflective court scenes help draw the audience’s attention to the central issue. The Indian judge’s presence of mind and compelling remarks lifts the overall tussle between a mother and a foreign lands dictum.
Sure, the story is about a mother’s plight in a foreign country that too without the support of her husband but, as soon as you sink your teeth in the goings on, it appears to be lopsided towards showcasing the protagonist’s plight. The film needed a good commentary about how she legally came victorious against a country and not an account of how she battled with everyone around her.
With Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway, the makers have subtly presented the Indianness in various ways. The way we welcome visitors and treat them well. Mrs Chatterjee joins her hands whenever someone extends a favourable hand and at times reject too with joined hands. The couple kept losing multiple appeals to have their children’s custody until top Indian leaders (in reality), Sushma Swaraj (played by Neena Gupta) and Brinda Karat, stepped in. The honourable Indian judge (played by Barun Chanda) evaluates the situation minutely and balances his statements by not hurting the diplomatic ties and speak mindfully within the legal boundaries.
It is the story of a mother who is ready to take desperate measures to get her children back. Rani Mukerji showcases a myriad of emotions and leaves a lump in your throat with her sense of pain and agony. Rani Mukerji understands that and pours her heart out depicting Debika’s pain and ordeal. But with a story as deeply emotional as this needed more contemplative moments than melodrama. There are scenes of Debika, with her little daughter Suchi, sharing her frustration about her husband who does not support her emotionally, and otherwise. Those moments convey Debika’s state of mind more than her screaming does. That would have helped the audience understand Debika’s predicament of being stuck.
Jim Sarbh & Balaji Gauri
Other than Rani Mukerji, it is Jim Sarbh who plays Daniel Singh Chiupek, a lawyer of Indian descent practising in Norway, has a crucial part with some impactful lines and screen presence. Ditto for Balaji Gauri, who plays Mrs Chatterjee’s counsel in Kolkata, is exceptionally good but unfortunately, she appears very late in the storyline. Camouflaging the legal battle in Norway and India simultaneously could have helped enhance these two characters and the overall movie.
Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway seems like a lost opportunity. Such subjects seldom surface in the form of a film at least in Hindi cinema. When the title itself is about two legal opponents and that too between a middle-class woman and a country, it could have been presented with a more legal perspective.
The high point in the film arrives much late in the form of Balaji Gauri as Debika Chatterjee’s (Rani Mukerji) lawyer in Kolkata. Her introduction could have begun the narrative. Since the movie is supposed to be a legal battle, the audience would have loved a lot more of the legal language with the film moving back and forth, between what happened in Norway and the present. Instead Ashima went overboard rather than exercising restraint to express Debika’s agony.
Overall, at times one needs to get un-entertained, with a story like Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway, which had all the elements for a great story, but the writing spoils the plot.
Movie: Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway
Directed by: Ashima Chibber
Cast: Rani Mukerji, Anirban Bhattacharya, Jim Sarbh, Balaji Gauri, Barun Chanda, Neena Gupta
Duration: 135 Mins