A real story told with mainstream tools and imbued with melodramatic tropes, Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway starts with a stutter but gradually finds its way. The agonising experience of Sagarika Chakraborty whose children were taken away by Norwegian Child Welfare Services in 2011 on grounds of improper treatment made headlines in India. The ensuing court battles and diplomatic intervention played out in the national media but here director and co-writer Ashima Chhibber uses the creative licence to explore the human biases that get evened out in news stories.
As she paints Sagarika as Debika Chatterjee (Rani Mukerji), a doting mother and a devoted housewife, Ashima starts with broad strokes and then gradually peels the layers of the clash of cultures where a mother feeding a child with the hand is seen as a force feed. The problem gets worse because Debika is in a toxic marriage which, like most Indian women, she doesn’t realise. She wakes up only when she is left to fend for herself in a foreign land by her self-seeking husband, Aniruddh (Anirban Bhattacharya). for whom citizenship is more important than anything else. How she survives and takes on the system takes us on a roller coaster ride of emotions.
Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway (Hindi)
Director: Ashima Chhibber
Cast: Rani Mukerji, Anirban Bhattacharya, Neena Gupta, Jim Sarbh.
Runtime: 144 minutes
Storyline: Debika Chatterjee, a spirited mother, battles for her children’s custody after they are snatched away by the Norwegian welfare services on unethical grounds
Of course, the story set in the popular idiom is told from Debika’s point of view and one can’t discount that it is tailor-made for Rani, but, in its efforts to make villains out of Norwegian authorities and paint Aniruddh and his family as monsters under cover, Ashima doesn’t give Debika a clean chit and lets the battle of perspectives on nurturing children in two different cultures play out. She more than hints at a scam in the welfare services but doesn’t question the Norwegian concept of putting children first.
At the same time, Ashima doesn’t dress up Debika as a likeable character. There is no halo of Northern Lights behind Debika and her flaws are quite apparent. In fact, the cinematic gaze captures the journey of a parochial and overbearing mother who could not look beyond her motherly instincts and cultural norms from a shrill Mrs Chatterjee to a coherent Debika.
As a counter to the strident approach of Debika, Jim Sarbh as Daniel Singh Cieupick, a Norwegian lawyer of Indian origin, brings the required balance to the narrative when he tells an Indian court that not all mothers are doting and not all adopted children lose the way. Anirban also presents the picture of a sensible way to find a solution but his quietness is a cover. And when Barun Chanda, as the imposing Indian judge, delineates the difference between law and justice, there is no versus left to discuss.
Rani’s performance looks jarring in the beginning as she tries a little too hard to execute the stereotype of a Bengali housewife in an alien milieu. So, ‘face’ becomes ‘phase’ but ‘find’ doesn’t become ‘phind’. The opening scene when the authorities take away her children is executed with such dramatic flourish that for once one thought that one has walked into a cross between Hichki and Mardaani.
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A tremendous actor , Rani has not been able to tone down the melodramatic instincts of her pre-OTT performances. However, as the narrative progresses, she gets the pulse of Debika right and she starts speaking to us. Ashima has given her scenes where she could portray the pent-up rage of a mother who doesn’t have the tools to express herself in a foreign land. Like when Aniruddh slaps her, Debika instinctively slaps him back. Or the one where Debika mashes a banana, pours milk on it, and devours it after she is heard for the first time. As she silences the raging fire within, the previous scenes suddenly start making sense.
However, in a screenplay driven by a star, the children, the focus of the narrative, get short shrift and are used just to showcase the range of Rani. Overall, it is the kind of film that doesn’t look good but if you give it a chance, it begins to feel right.
Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway releases in theatres on March 17.
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