The Rani Mukherjee-starrer Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway relies solely on the titular character’s persistence to create an emotional impact on anyone watching the film. Particularly as a movie, it is very adamant about separating good from evil, making it often seem like a caricature rather than real life, and the only saving grace is Rani Mukherjee’s “Mrs. Chatterjee.” As I was watching the film with my sister, the first thing she said was that she was doing the “mom” thing so perfectly, and that is a clear statement of why she’s able to tell this story. The film is inspired by the unbelievable story of Sagarika Chakraborty, a real-life mother and fighter who witnessed a life-shattering tragedy in a foreign country. Her two infant children were taken away from her by Norway’s child protection services in 2011. Of course, being a Bollywood film, the film often becomes overdramatized and doesn’t meet the standards of Rani’s career-defining performance, undermining her ability to perfectly express what a mother in that position might be going through.
Let’s look into Debika’s story a little. In the last few minutes of the film, where she answers the judge’s question about her thoughts (a first), we understand so much about her as a woman and as a human being. Debika was brought up in a small town in West Bengal by loving parents. Her father believed she needed to be educated, so she decided to do a bachelor’s in science without protest. In this alone, we see a huge part of Debika’s character: she is selfless and also determined to make everyone around her happy. It’s not easy to pursue a science degree, especially if you’re just matter-of-factly put into such a position, but it shows her capabilities and skills to excel in what she does. After that, she was asked by her mother to get married, which she did. Her husband Aniruddha has only one goal in life: to be a citizen of Norway, as is made abundantly clear by Debika throughout the film, not to say his actions speak otherwise. Debika agreed to move to Norway and settle there for her husband’s wishes, but nobody ever asked her what she wanted. She had two wonderful babies there and began to get used to living away from home and creating a life for herself in an unknown land with an unknown language. Quickly, her kids became her whole world, but that world was taken away from her in mere seconds with no warning. Oftentimes in the film, Debika’s actions are infuriating to the viewer because we know that the things she’s doing will only aggravate her problems and make her look more “unstable” in taking care of her children. Her language barrier doesn’t help at all, and her eagerness makes it look as if she’s, well, losing her mind, and that is exactly what the opposite party is betting on. But, to think of it, in such a situation, we wouldn’t expect a mother to behave in any other way.
I wish the film was called “Debika vs. Norway” instead of Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway because, in many ways, it erases her personal identity, the thing that pushed her to get her children back for herself and herself alone. Of course, it’s understandable that that’s how she’s referred to by the court, and hence it makes a statement, but somehow it feels like a black dot on her work! In the movie, we see that Debika changed the lives of multiple immigrant families in Norway and other European states because of her decision to fight the system. She endured not just for herself but for her country (nay, but the national anthem was completely unnecessary and uncalled for) and other families. Debika’s best quality is her “never give up” spirit. How one can fall so many times and continue to get back up on their feet is impossible to understand. Amidst fighting for her children and fighting an entire nation, she also faces domestic violence, yet another thing that pushes her down deeper into the ground. With only her head above the ground, this one woman had a loud enough voice to get what she wanted after years of living for others.
All of Debika’s problems began when she told her friend that her husband was beating her so hard that he fractured her hand. This was her first step toward fighting for herself, but somehow it backfired on her. Still, she continued to fight, and as she mentions in the same monologue mentioned earlier, she would fight any country, in any corner of the world, till her last breath to get her children back because she knew they would be happy only with her. An interesting parallel is drawn when Daniel is brought up to the stand by Debika’s only proficient lawyer throughout the film. She asks Daniel if adoptive parents could love their children more, which is a very subjective question, and as an adopted child, Daniel is certain it is possible. But he is open to seeing Debika’s love for her children and chooses to speak the truth on her behalf because he would not be able to see this mother be separated from her children for another second. Even the teacher, Berit Hansen, who is culturally different from Debika, understands that she would not do anything to harm her children, and with the language barrier and the cultural differences, she still chooses to stand up for Debika because of how far she is willing to go to get her kids back. We know it’s especially far, as she kidnaps her own children from foster care and absconds to Sweden in an attempt to be reunited with them for good. Debika doesn’t see clearly; she isn’t interested in seeing anything else besides her children in front of her and in her own arms.
At home, Debika also faces pathetic in-laws who don’t seem to care about their grandchildren at all. This is rather astonishing, but it is a one-woman show, so we’ll accept it. We see her step out of the house all decked up (something her mother-in-law doesn’t refrain from commenting on), pretending to go to the temple to pray for her kids, but instead, she goes to speak to the visiting politician because she has ears and eyes open and is smart enough to use this opportunity to save her kids. In an absolutely vulnerable scene, when she returns, she makes the rice, milk, and banana mixture she feeds her kids and gobbles it down in front of her husband’s entire family after a successful endeavor to get the government on her side. Debika’s many faults, according to the child services company, include feeding her children by hand, sleeping with her kids, and smothering them with too much love. These are the same qualities, among many others, that would make her a great mother in India. Debika is surrounded by expectations everywhere, and they’re all different from each other. Therefore, her best way forward is to make a path for herself and march on alone. This is what makes her win her children back against all odds. Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway is a case study on the age-old story of how one should always fight for what one wants and how perseverance is the key to achieving everything you wish for.