A 360-degree turn from her first film, Mere Dad Ki Maruti, which was released a decade ago. Ashima Chibber returns to the director’s seat with Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway, which is Rani Mukerji’s first film outside Yash Raj Films after more than a decade. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the superstar as an ordinary person fighting for justice, perhaps the last reference being No One Killed Jessica.
Based on Sagarika Bhattacharya’s true story from 2011, Mukerji plays Debika, who fights a country to bring back her children from Norwegian Child Welfare Services (CWS). Bhattacharya and her husband Anirudh (Anirban Bhattacharya) were living in Norway with their children until they were forced into foster care by CWS, with rules that the parents can’t see their children till they turn 18.
The reason stated by the parents was cultural differences like they used to feed their children which were marked as force-feeding by Norway’s Child Protective Service. It was followed by custody battles with the intervention of the Indian Government. The movie chronicles this emotional war.
I am unaware of details in the real case, but it certainly seems like artistic liberty is taken in presenting key events. One such scene is when Debika breaks into a high-profile press conference of an Indian politician. Such occurrences are rare and seem very dramatised.
The screenplay initially feels scattered. Instead of jumping straight into the action, I would preferred if the premise was set from the beginning. It would have been heartening to get an understanding of the family from before the procedural drama unravels.
Having said that, the filmmaker employs some powerful visuals in conveying the conflict. For instance, the heart-wrenched couple drives and that’s when rays of the Northern lights touch the car and faces. This beautiful sequence is an assurance that the divine is with them during this difficult time. Another interpretation is that the beauty of these lights juxtaposes with their brutal condition.
Chhiber also presents hard-hitting scenes which solely rests on Rani’s performance. One such example is when the mother viciously taunts her but in response she goes into the kitchen and eats food as a protest. Sequences like this are heartbreaking yet empowering and effectively highlight the character’s mindset/emotions.
What makes this picture different from other Hindi-international ones is that this does not look at the West with a starry-eyed lens. On the contrary, there is a realistic yet assuring sentiment conveyed that India is efficient and sufficient in living a prosperous life. As such, it makes us proud as Indians that we come from a country that never turns its back on citizens. No matter how adverse circumstances or where they are.
In fact, the dystopian European dream acts as a catalyst in exposing sub-layers of patriarchy and corruption. It also emphasises how quick our society is in labelling women who bravely fight for justice. Plus, one find is it fascinating how after Mimi in 2021, a story angled of an Indian woman fighting western capturers of her child is surfacing in mainstream Hindi movies. It is great to see movies where mums fight back.
There is always a project which is not only a performance milestone, but as an audience, we feel that the actor has discovered their voice as artists. For Mukerji, this is definitely that film. Her sincerity as an actor translates searingly through the screen. The helplessness, frustration, anger and determination is presented in a flawless manner. At times, the simplicity yet strength in her performance made me nostalgic of actresses like Madhabi Mukherjee and Sridevi. Rani really has a league of her own and is truly a national treasure.
Anirban is also a brilliant talent. His character evokes a range of emotions, which makes us empathise with the female counterpart. But the sentiments I felt after watching Suraj Venjaramoodu in The Great Indian Kitchen is present here too. His role is one which is tough to depict but yet he does it with grace and flair. It is refreshing to see a thespian of his calibre get prominent roles in commercial ventures like this.
Another fine talent is Jim Sarbh, who plays an Indo-Norwegian lawyer. With several shades, he portrays his role in a compelling way. He adds freshness to the screen every time he appears. It is equally lovely to see Neena Gupta in a special appearance, though the role is too short for my liking.
Human interest narratives like Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway are important for Hindi and Indian cinema, as a whole. This unsung story of a brave mother who fought an entire country deserves the big-screen experience. Even though the screenplay or direction may not be spotless, some stories and performances (like Rani’s here) compensate for short-comings. Movies like these deserve appreciation and applause!
⭐️⭐️⭐️.5/5 (3.5/5 stars)
The film is presented by Zee Studios and Emmay Entertainment. Releases on March 17, 2023.