Review: The film is inspired by the true story of Sagarika Chakraborty, an Indian woman whose children were taken away from her by the Norwegian government. Sagarika made headlines in 2012 when she fought against the Norwegian authorities to get back the custody of her children. The whole matter had also sparked a diplomatic row between India and Norway.
Moving on to the screen adaptation, Debika (Rani Mukerji) is a young Bengali housewife struggling with motherhood and her life in Norway. Even though her husband adopts Norwegian language and norms, she prefers to maintain her Indian roots and wear them on her sleeve. Expect gorgeous Kolkata cotton sarees on the lead actress in icy Norway over trench coats and she often slips into Bengali mid-conversation. Her opposition to cloning the Norwegian way of life and refusal to give up her Indianness attracts the attention of some corrupt officials in the Norwegian childcare services. Common Indian practices like eating with hands, feeding one’s child with one’s hand, sleeping in the same bed with one’s child… are seen as bad qualities of parents and are used to separate them from their parents. There are reasons enough for that.
When her children are taken away from Debika, she is unable to think properly. Unfazed by the consequences, she vows to recklessly and relentlessly use any means necessary to save her children. His goofy behavior becomes his worst enemy as it helps him legitimize the kidnapping of his children under the guise of social work. How far will a mother go to retrieve her children? Can Indian immigrants expose a scam that uses children and foster care to defraud the government?
“I don’t know whether I am a good mother or a bad mother”, confesses Debika as she approaches several courts in India and Norway for justice. Three years to get custody of his kids after being framed for mental instability. Ashima Chibber, who previously directed ‘Mere Dad Ki Maruti’, directed Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway. She skims through some valid arguments on patriarchy, domestic violence being normalized in most Indian families and what constitutes a ‘good mother’. She doesn’t whitewash her flawed main character, but we wish she had dug deeper. The intent is visible, but the execution barely scratches the surface.
Most of the characters are one-dimensional caricatures that don’t go beyond the Wikipedia stage of research for their story. With a powerful actress like Rani Mukerji on hand, the director could have crafted a far more nuanced character than what we get. The actress who has the ability to be comfortable in front of the camera gets dramatic and excessive. Her high-decibel fight for justice kicks off the first half with more noise, less grief. However, she gets her character’s tone right in the second part when silence gives you more space to think and feel. Rani slowly becomes Sagarika Chakraborty and once she lets her eyes do a lot of talking she becomes dominant. Co-written by Ashima, Rahul Handa and Sameer Satija, the film is packed with drama, crowd-pleasing dialogues and clichés. Bad people keep making bad faces to show that they are bad people (read Norwegian childcare women). The queen continues to chant, “I want my auspicious and auspicious back”.
Jim Sarbh gives the film its best moments and elevates it. It is his restrained portrayal of an Indian-origin lawyer in Norway that captures the heart of this film. Sarbh gets you thinking when his character (Daniel) questions the notion that adoptive parents cannot be as loving and caring as biological parents. You want more of his and her argument in a convenient climax.
Amit Trivedi’s music embodies the spirit of a fearless mother. ‘Shubho Shubho’ touches your heart. The film might have achieved a similar effect if it were not for the populist approach and dramatic execution.