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How A Mother Almost Lost Her Children To A Culture Clash

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How A Mother Almost Lost Her Children To A Culture Clash

The Nikkhil Advani’s film is based on a book ‘The Journey of a Mother’ which narrates the story of a Bengali couple living in Norway. The Norwegian Child Welfare Services had taken their children away, to be kept at a foster home till they turned 18

By Aindrila Roy

A mother’s real-life trauma

In 2011, Sagarika Chakraborty and Anurup Bhattacharya, a Bengali couple living in Norway, faced their worst nightmare. The Norwegian Child Welfare Services, known as Barnevernet, took their children Abhigyaan and Aishwarya away, to be kept at a foster home till they turned 18. The traumatic event caused the couple to part ways. After a long legal battle, Sagarika gained sole custody of her children, who now live in Kolkata with her parents. Sagarika lives and works in Noida.

When love looked a lot like abuse

Based on Sagarika’s book, The Journey of a Mother, Nikkhil Advani’s 2023 Hindi film, Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway, opens with three women hurriedly getting into a car with a baby in their arms. Shortly afterward, Debika Chatterjee (Rani Mukherji) is seen running after the car, only to tumble to the ground. The film, a fictionalized take on Sagarika’s story, follows the uphill battle Debika must fight to retrieve her children from the child services agency, Velfred. The agency alleged that Debika was mentally unstable and was therefore an unfit mother.

Sia (Kärt Tammjärv) and Matilda (Britta Soll), the two social workers for Velfred, had been visiting the Chatterjees for 10 weeks. In their findings, they stated that Debika would feed her children by her hand which was construed as being “force-fed”. They also did not like that the children, three-year-old Shubh and five-month-old Suchi, were co-sleeping with the parents. Shubh was also suspected to be autistic and Velfred was not convinced that the child was getting adequate attention. A prior complaint of domestic violence only served to work against the parents.

The film chronicles Debika’s journey as she fights for her children in a country where she can’t speak the language, and struggles with depression and an unsupportive husband. She is under intense scrutiny, where every action she takes is analyzed, judged, and criticized by those around her. Amid all this, she takes makes some drastic moves that cause her further troubles.

Mrs-Chatterjee-vs-Norway-Poster-2-IMDBRani – the star of the show

Rani Mukherjee, over the years, has solidified her position as one of the most versatile and reliable actors in the Hindi film industry. Here too, she is near perfect. She speaks mostly Bangla, sprinkled with broken Hindi and English.  The challenge here was to maintain consistency in the character’s linguistic style, and in that, Rani is fairly consistent. Add to that Debika’s highly charged emotions, and Rani’s performance is nothing short of fantastic. For the most part.

Where she faltered, was in the final scene where she had to give a monologue. There I felt she channeled the late 90s- early 2000s acting style, instead of the nuanced performance she had been delivering throughout the movie. There has been some criticism about the loud pitch of her performance, but I don’t agree. As I interpreted it, Debika was stretched to the hilt and had gone beyond caring about niceties.

Stable supporting cast

The performances of the supporting cast can be divided into two neat categories – the nuanced ones and the caricatures.

Anirban Bhattacharya as Aniruddha Chatterjee, Debika’s husband, is superb as the patriarchal man who has some antiquated ideas of what a husband’s role is and how a wife must be. My favorite in the cast, though, was Jim Sarbh as Daniel Singh Ciupek, the lawyer for the parents. He is the most nuanced character in the story and Jim gives the character a calm, assured air.

Other notable supporting cast are Balaji Gauri as advocate Ms. Pratap, Barun Chanda as the Judge of Kolkata High Court, and the Norwegian foster parents.

The caricatures

One of my biggest grouses about the movie is that it has only two types of characters: either they are with Debika or they are against her. The characters, including Debika’s, are painted in broad strokes. With the sole exception of Daniel Singh Ciupek, everyone that is in camp Debika is a good person and everyone against her is a bad person. While the writers Sameer Satija, Ashima Chibber, and Rahul Handa, attempt to give Aniruddha some shades of character, they fail to do so with the remaining characters.

The social workers from Velfred are shown to be smirking and gesticulating, almost deriving pleasure from Debika’s plight in a very Disney villain way. Debika’s in-laws are shown to be the stereotypical saas-bahu soap in-laws, scheming against her, and berating her. Soumya Mukherjee as Anurag Chatterjee (Debika’s brother-in-law) also comes across as a petulant child.

Lack of depth

As I was watching the movie, I couldn’t help but think of another movie, Talvar, also a fictional retelling of a horrific real-life incident. The difference between Talvar and Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway is the sensitivity with which they are handled. That is not to say that the latter isn’t sensitive to the core issue. But it also suffers due to its mainstream Bollywood treatment. I would have liked to linger a little more on the internal conflicts and the mental anguish of the mother who wants her children back. When that bag of milk falls on the ground, I wanted to see Debika break. I would have also liked to see more of the kids.

A picturesque backdrop

The stunning visuals of Norway are presented by cinematographer Alvar Koue. After all, it’s hard to go wrong with visuals when the Northern Lights are dancing in the sky. Amit Trivedi’s music blends very well with the story. A special shout out to Sheetal Sharma’s costume designs for Rani Mukherjee’s gorgeous sarees.

Director Ashima Chibber did make a sincere effort to present a story that deserved to be told, but this film would have benefitted from a deeper look into Debika’s and the children’s psyches instead of simply chronicling the events as they occurred.

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cropped-Aindrila-Roy-120x120Aindrila Roy is a stay-at-home mom with her fingers in many pies. She writes, reads, makes jewelry, sings, and dances and is a huge Paleontology nerd. Her book, I See You, was self-published on Amazon. She also has stories in anthologies, such as City of Screams and Dark Valentine. Several of her movie reviews have been published in the Monster magazine. She is currently working towards pitching her second novel, and building a Paleontology blog.

Courtesy: India Currents (Posted on May 12, 2023)

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