The Hindi film Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway is now playing in cinemas across the UAE. It’s directed by Ashima Chibber and stars Rani Mukerji, Anirban Bhattacharya, Neena Gupta, Jim Sarbh, Tiina Tauraite
Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway review
This week we watched Zwigato, which went into the travails of a husband and wife trying to provide a meaningful life for their young children. And following it, we have Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway, which is about the contretemps of young parents who have their child taken away from them by the government welfare agency in a foreign land.
The major difference between the two films is the treatment of the subject – the former was subtle and sensitive, while the latter is loud and melodramatic. Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway would have done better with some restraint — from the director and the lead actor Rani Mukerji, whose high-pitched rendering of the role makes it belong to the world of tacky saas-bahu serials.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The story is based on the real-life drama that surrounded the lives of Sagarika Chakraborty and her husband Anurup Bhattacharya, expat parents in the Scandinavian country of Norway, where the norms of parenting were (and are) decidedly different.
Anurup was employed there as a geophysicist, while Sagarika was a homemaker. Being a typical Indian mother, she fed her children with her hand and the kids were allowed to sleep with the parents in the same bed. But this fell afoul of the Norwegian child welfare agency, which took away the kids to a foster care centre.
The issue became a cause celebre which led to a diplomatic fallout between India and Norway. The case was also fought in the Indian courts and the extended family of the Bhattacharyas also jumped into the fray as they got custody of the kids. The tension and tumult cast a shadow on Sagarika’s marriage, where she also had to fight a battle for the custody of the kids in Indian courts.
This messy event was made worse by the bad faith between the two countries. A cool and level-headed discussion could have sorted the issue from snowballing into a major flashpoint between two otherwise friendly nations. The issue broke out in 2011, and 12 years later, when a film is made on it, the Norwegian Ambassador to India penned a signed op-ed in an Indian newspaper clarifying his country’s position and how it was misjudged on the issue. That is how big and sensitive it was and is.
The traumatic experience, which came out as Sagarika’s autobiography The Journey Of A Mother first, is the central story of the film (script by Sameer Satija, Ashima Chibber and Rahul Handa), and the story’s primary focus is from the standpoint of the mother. The narrative, by and large, sticks to the original, save for minor tweaks. It starts from the Norwegian experiences of the couple, Anirudh Chatterjee (Anirban Bhattacharya) and Debika (Rani Mukerji), where their seemingly staid but pleasant life is sullied as the Norwegian child welfare agency runs amok.
Following a complaint, the agency arrives at the scene and concludes Anirudh is unhelpful as a dad and, worse, Debika as an unfit mom. All breaks loose, and the matter becomes complicated because of the language barrier. Debika can’t speak anything more than Hindi and Bengali, and her English is barely serviceable. The Norwegian authorities are not ready to look for nuance and everything gets lost in translation.
The first half is shrill and the characters come across as caricatures. Debika is over the top with her emotions, while the Norwegian officials come across as one-dimensional. Anirudh is more worried about his impending resident visa issues. The screenplay doesn’t allow you to root for the Bhattacharyas, and your sympathies aren’t on the Norwegian side either.
It is only when the scene shifts to India and the court jousts begin that the film kicks into form. Now Debika is also up against her scheming brother-in-law, who is granted custody of the kids. The court portions involving Debika’s lawyer (Balaji Gauri) and the counsel for Norway (Jim Sarbh) provide the film with some meat. The latter is especially good and it is his performance that unpeels the problems and prejudices that exist on both sides of the fence.
Rani, in this segment, when she is quiet and helpless over the events unfolding around her, comes into her own. Otherwise, her performance is loud. Anirban, as her husband, comes off better, especially in a character that is easy to dislike.
Amit Trivedi’s music understands the needs of the film and is adequate. If only the director Ashima Chibber had shown more skill in toning down the narration volume, a real-life teary-eyed drama would have gotten a fitting depiction on screen.
Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway
Director: Ashima Chibber
Date Created: 2023-03-18 08:30