Instead of feeling her desperation, despair or extreme acts stemming from a mother’s primal need to protect her brood, what comes through is hollow theatrics, feels Sukanya Verma.
If feeding one’s child by hand, sharing beds or planting a superstitious ‘kaala teeka‘ on their foreheads to ward off evil were indications of bad parenting, most Indian parents would find themselves unfit for the job.
Frowning upon foreign traditions different from one’s own isn’t uncommon.
Our first impulse is to dismiss rather than develop an understanding of another’s roots.
But when cultural differences form the sole reason for something as horrific as uprooting children from their parents and incensing an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion, it treads on racism and Western ignorance of the Asian way.
What transpired in the early 2010s is a complex mix of culture clash, domestic upheavals and diplomatic intervention when a NRI couple in Norway’s Stavanger city tussled the country’s child welfare laws to reclaim their three-year-old son and one-year-old daughter in a prolonged custody row, compelling the Indian government to step in and sort the matter.
Above all, it’s a mother’s journey for justice fighting tooth and nail to be reunited with her kids.
Based on Sagarika Chakraborty’s 2022 book The Journey of a Mother, Director Ashima Chibber’s Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway has a dramatic story at hand. But in her need to tell it hysterically, she forgets to empathise.
God could not be everywhere so he made mothers.
Rudyard Kipling’s famous quote punctuates its opening credits while Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway advances to draw a hyperventilating image of motherhood upheld by frantically running after a moving car, pumping packets of breast milk and sneaking her kids out of foster home.
Instead of feeling her desperation, despair or extreme acts stemming from a mother’s primal need to protect her brood, what comes through is hollow theatrics.
Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway dives right into action when routine visits from the Stavanger child welfare centre take an ugly turn.
Without as much as a word or warning, they take off with the two young kids belonging to an immigrant Bengali couple Debika (Rani Mukerji) and Anirudh (Anirban Bhattacharya) in a quiet corner of town. Sloppy eating manners, shabby state of home, sleeping next to parents, delay in submission of school assignments appear to be the problem.
In this dialled-up drama co-written by Sameer Satija, Rahul Handa and Chibber, the problem is Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway‘s lopsided view of things.
It’s always Debika against the world.
While Anirudh is more worried about his citizenship than children and ever ready to throw Debika under the bus, the Norwegians are sniggering Cruellas and bald Bollywood villains full of schadenfreude.
Everything is neatly black or white — Debika’s family is soft-spoken, sensitive, Anirudh’s family is selfish, callous.
There’s no room for anyone else’s point of view or pain. Not even the poor kids, losing precious time away from their mother and father.
Between the chauvinistic half’s casual abuse and constant embarrassment towards his wife and a country full of devilish caricatures allegedly running a scam in the garb of safety, Debika must emerge as Mother India against all odds.
And if her melodramatic speech in the end against the tune of the national anthem is any indication, she does too. Only if it was half as genuine.
Rani Mukerji is a riveting actress, but her shrill, screechy take doesn’t bode well for her character.
It’s a performance that constantly feels like a performance. Whether she’s mashing a banana in milk and gobbling it up like no’s one watching or pleading before ‘Judge Sir’ in broken English, her histrionics are better suited for the Raakhee era.
The hodgepodge of awkward accents in its Hindi-Bangla-English-addled script only adds to the bumpy tone.
There’s little to say about Anirban’s Anirudh relegated to bad guy without really getting into why the marriage went sour.
It’s depressing when real stories play out like fiction.
At one point in Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway, Debika goes looking for her estranged kid by rattling a box full of rice grains like Yaarana‘s Amitabh Bachchan searching for Amjad Khan in an asylum.
What’s in the news is well documented.
What went on in her head is what one wants to know.
But what ensues is flashbacks of songs of happier times while underscoring her Bengali heritage in cosmetic ways — colourful jamdani saris, luchi, Govind bhog rice, pujo, sakha-paula, photo frames of Ramakrishna Paramhans, Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda. Big, bad Norway’s beautiful Northern Lights make an appearance too.
Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway‘s overwrought proceedings take a breather in Jim Sarbh’s composed lawyer. His fine thoughts on adoption to an equally level-headed Balaji Gauri at the fag end is the only sobering, sensible thing uttered in this cacophonous ode to motherhood.
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