It is the second consecutive year that the show will be hosted by Parton
Rani Mukerji has a way of taking charge of interviews that can teach even a seasoned politician a few lessons. With her signature husky voice that has you hooked from the word go, and that uber confidence born no doubt from the experience of working her way up in an industry where over a 27-year long career, she has seen her share of ups and downs. Last seen alongside Saif Ali Khan in comedy drama Bunty Aur Babli 2 (2021), Rani has gained the reputation in recent times of being selective about her roles.
Now she is back on the big screen with Ashima Chibber’s legal drama Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway. The movie is based on the real life story of Indian immigrant couple Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya who had their children Abhigyan and Aishwarya forcefully taken away by Norway’s Child Welfare Service (CWS) in 2011 over allegations of bad parenting.
WATCH: CT CONVERSATION WITH RANI MUKERJI
It was a case that played out across all media platforms and shook an entire nation at the time. But Rani says she was apprised of the news only in early 2021 when producer Nikhil Advani called her to discuss the movie. “When Nikhil called me with the subject, I honestly was shocked to hear the details of this case,” she tells us over Zoom.
“The fact that an Indian immigrant mother was separated from both her children, one being five months old and the other three on the basis of cultural issues like feeding with the hand or putting a black dot (to ward off evil), or sleeping in the same bed and stuff like that... I hung up on him and googled this entire episode. This case was extensively carried by Indian media in 2011. And in spite of that, being an Indian citizen, I didn't know about this case till 2021.”
“And that got me thinking that this is a story that needs to be told. This is a story that I want to be part of. I want to tell the story of this brave mother who fought an entire country, fought in her own country, fought her own people because she wanted her kids back. And she didn't give up no matter what happened.”
Bollywood has over the years given the cinematic treatment to several real life incidents and helped turn the gaze of many towards stories like these. But what makes Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway stand out for Rani is that at its centre it is the story of a mother’s journey and her struggle. Being mother to a 7-year old daughter (Adira) herself, Rani, who is married to YRF Chairman Aditya Chopra, connected with the story on a different level.
“It was very important for me to be able to portray Debika's journey with utmost responsibility because it is a real life story of a mother. And it was her real struggle and I had to be able to portray her emotions as close to what I thought a Bengali mum would go through.” Excerpts from the interview:
You have mentioned how your identity as a Bengali mum connected you to Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway. But do you think you would have taken on this role if it had come before Adira was born?
Yes, of course. A lot of my friends tease me that I became a mum when I was three years old! I had motherly instincts even then. When you're born a woman, you automatically become a mum. You don't have to really give birth to a child to be able to feel motherly. It's very evident in the way we play when we are young children. We like to play with dolls; we like to look after them. We like to brush their hair, we like to put them to sleep. So these maternal instincts are inborn within us. I did Ta Ra Rum Pum (2007, where she played a mum of two) when I was a single-ready-to-mingle person.
All your movie choices are pretty hard hitting and you have a tendency to immerse yourself completely in your role, be it Mardaani or Hichki. What makes Rani Mukerji say yes to a role?
For me, it's very important that I connect with the central character they're offering me. I have to feel emotional about that person and understand that person because I have to portray her on screen. And of course, the overall subject. Is it a film that I want to be part of? These two factors are very important for me. Like in Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway’s case, I just couldn't take myself away from the script. I was just so attached.
In many ways, Mrs. Chatterjee Vs Norway is an ode to motherhood. But as a mother, do you feel this concept of motherhood is idealized, where if a woman deviates from what society expects from her, she is looked upon as an aberration. Is that what went wrong in Debika’s case?
Forget the outside world, there is so much judgement towards mothers by their peers. When you have a baby, you have your mother telling you, ‘this is not the way I raised you, You should do this. You should do that.’ The judgments happen at home. The judgments happen with people around you, your friends, family, mother-in-law... There's so much that a woman has to deal with, you know?
And every mother reacts differently. Every mother has a different threshold of bearing pain. Every mother is a different mother with her kids, and every mother knows what is best for her child. I think it's very unfair to tell a mother that you don't know what's best for your child. We know what's best. And that cannot be true in any mother’s case unless and until the mother has serious social issues or is addicted or is unable to raise the child correctly. Even then a mother and child are connected through the umbilical cord. So it is tough to give a judgement on this.
For some success is in the box office collection, for others it's critical applause and for many it is a creative satisfaction. But how do you define success?
For me, it's an amalgamation of all the three that you just spoke about, because without box office success, I wouldn't know how many people have watched my film. As an actor, it's very important for me that the hard work that I do reaches millions of people. I don't work for just a section of people to see and judge my work. I work for my fans. I work for people who like to come and see me work on screen. They have been doing that for the last 27 years. And I'm hoping they do the same 27 years from here on.
The box office validation is not about just the producer earning money. Box office validation is also about the number of people going to watch your film, and that's how you raise awareness. The more the people, the better it is for an artist. You know that you've been seen. You've been heard by so many movies. When you talk of critical acclaim, you talk about people who have been critics and have been following your work for years, and they like to judge your work and critique your work and let you know where you can do better. So that's also very important for an actor's growth. Then you talk about creative satisfaction. Without creative satisfaction, an artist can be left very, very unsatisfied. So it has to be a combination of all of these things.
And do you read reviews? Are you able to roll with whatever comments come in at this stage of your career?
Luckily for me, I was doing so many films before social media. We used to get to know from a collective response from the media what the audience felt for a film. We had to go to the theater to understand what is the pulse of the audience. Now, thanks to Twitter and social media, the audiences are also saying what they feel. So it's easier to gauge what an audience is feeling about your work or your film. And it's an immediate reaction. It's not a delayed understanding of what an audience thought about your film. And then you suddenly understand that, okay, this critic is being a little too critical or this critic is maybe really seeing the film like an audience or this one is not really seeing the film as an audience because there is a huge gap between the critic and the audience’s reaction. So now it's easier to gauge.
Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway is playing in UAE theatres from Friday, March17
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