When Rani Mukerji takes on a role, you can bet she will pour her heart and soul into the role, until all we see and hear across the screen is her. It is the same with Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway, Ashima Chibber’s Bollywood adaptation of the heart-tugging real-life story of Bengali immigrant Sagarika Bhattacharya who embarked on a long-drawn legal battle against a country and her family for forcefully taking away her young children under the pretext of child welfare.
Rani Mukerji is a tour de force in this heart-wrenching tale of how cultural misinterpretations and legal loopholes are manipulated by the state to pass judgement on a mother who is deemed mentally unfit to take care of her own kids.
The Mardaani actress immerses herself exhaustively into the role of the highly volatile and unpredictable Bengali immigrant Debika, who goes traipsing around a foreign country (the movie is set in Norway but shot in Estonia), clad in a riot of starched Kolkata saris.
The first half showcasing the idyllic family life of engineer Aniruddha Chatterjee (played with great restraint but a unilateral tone by Anirban Bhattacharya) and his stay-home wife Debika entrusted with looking after their young son and daughter, Shubho and Shuchi, is so rose-tinged you could easily mistake it for a Norway tourism brochure for the model immigrant family.
But the underlying chinks begin to reveal themselves pretty quickly when two caricaturish doll-like Child Welfare officers from the state who had been entrusted with assessing the family dynamics quickly pull out a list of misdemeanours by Mrs Chatterjee which in their eye make her an unfit mother.
Serious social issues like domestic violence, gender inequality and depression are all sadly brushed under the carpet in an attempt to focus the story entirely on how an ‘idyllic’ family is unfairly targetted by unscrupulous government officials with their own vested agenda.
The pitch of the first half of the movie is so over-the-top with a hysterical Debika ranting and raving and generally making such a nuisance of herself that her unrestrained action undermines her own legal case. There are moments when we tend to empathize with the husband who comes across in comparison as extremely mild mannered and law-abiding to a fault. But when the latter’s obsession with getting a Norway citizenship takes precedence over fighting the legal system, Debika turns into a raging tigress out to protect her cubs.
Jim Sarbh as the court appointed lawyer who comes to their defence initially is such a study in contrast - a true lesson in how restraint and subtlety can go a long way in conveying the proper emotions too. The talented actor is able to express so much through just a sardonic shrug that it is a pleasure to watch him on screen as opposed to the hysteria on display at the other end.
Luckily in the second half, the movie finds its tempo and we are able to refocus on the actual case other than the melodrama playing out. The action shifts to Kolkata, India and the final court scenes are easily the highlight of the movie.
The scene does get into bombastic territory with an impassioned ode to ideal motherhood and a spiel on how mother knows best which can be a bit tiresome.
But what ultimately works for Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway is that this heart-wrenching story of a mother who goes on a rampage to win back her children is not a figment of some Bollywood screen writer’s vivid imagination.
It is a horrific real-life incident that will have you sit up aghast that if not for this passionate woman’s fight against an entire country, its legal system and her own family, two innocent children could have easily disappeared into the foster care system of an alien country.
But one does wish the story had been told with a little more finesse rather than leave one utterly exhausted and drained at the end of it all.
Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway releases in UAE theatres on March 17
Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway
Director: Ashima Chibber
Cast: Rani Mukerji, Anirban Bhattacharya, Jim Sarbh
Rating: 3 out of 5