This high-voltage drama, powered by Rani Mukerji as the film’s titular protagonist Debika Chatterjee, is about a mother’s undying love for her children. Inspired by the real-life case of Sagarika Chakraborty being separated from her two children by the Norwegian Child Welfare Service in 2011, the film closely follows Debika’s fight against the authorities. This is the story of an ordinary immigrant woman who goes to extraordinary lengths to get custody of her children.
Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway opens with the authorities taking away Debika’s two children. A desperate Debika runs after their vehicle as they speed off with her five-month daughter, who she breastfeeds, and her son, who studies in a neighbourhood kindergarten and has shown signs of autism. Her desperation grows when she realises her husband Anirudh (Bhattacharya) might be half-heartedly pursuing the legal battle to be reunited with their children as he is more concerned about securing Norwegian citizenship. This results in Debika’s single-minded pursuit to get her children back.
This decade-old custody battle case, which eventually became a diplomatic tussle, reflects the ordeals that immigrants undergo. The real-life incident unfolded like a tense drama with Norwegian authorities levelling multiple charges against Chakraborty and her husband. And the couple kept losing multiple appeals to have their children’s custody till top Indian leaders, Sushma Swaraj and Brinda Karat, stepped in. Debika’s plight uncovers the lack of cultural understanding, inclusivity and empathy as the authorities object to her parenting methods such as feeding her children with hands and sharing the same bed. It is the story of a desperate mother who is ready to take desperate measures for her children. Rani Mukerji understands that. The actor pours her heart into depicting Debika’s pain and ordeal. In the process, she mostly chooses to go overboard rather than exercising restraint to express Debika’s anguish.
The main charge against Anirudh is that he doesn’t share the household responsibilities, apart from being abusive. One of the weakest points of the film’s narrative is that it spells out everything loudly instead of showing what was wrong in Debika and Anirudh’s relationship, who didn’t believe in helping out his much hassled wife. By doing so, the film lets go of the details and nuances that’s essential to establish a connection with the audience. In a hurry to establish Anirudh as an unfeeling husband, who is keen to further his personal goals, his character has been left unidimensional. The writers (Sameer Satija, Rahul Handa and Chibber) also don’t spend much screen time in showing how the children are coping with the separation from their parents.
While the narrative largely banks on Debika, the other characters remain flat and cardboard-like, especially the Norwegian ones. The only actor who manages to stand out is Sarbh as a Norwegian lawyer of Indian origin. He joins Barun Chanda as an Indian judge and Balaji Gauri as Debika’s lawyer to hold the audience’s attention when Debika’s custody claim is decided in an Indian court. By then, the children’s custody is awarded to Anirudh’s brother in India but Debika is not allowed to meet them. This lengthy court sequence is what brings the audience’s attention to the central issue. It is engaging, reflective and, most importantly, drops the decibel level.
The film with a story as deeply emotional as this needed less melodrama and more contemplative moments. In the first half of the film, there are a few scenes of Debika talking to her daughter Suchi, who is in her pram, sharing her frustration about her husband who is unavailable, emotionally and otherwise. Those moments convey Debika’s state of mind more than her screaming does. The film needed more of that. That would have helped the audience understand Debika’s predicament of being stuck in a world so different from hers.
Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway is a story that needed to be told to remind us about the power of a strong-willed mother. But it should have been told differently without giving in to the tropes of commercial cinema.