It has been a decade since an Indian couple was shattered by the stance of the Norwegian government and fought a long-drawn battle to regain the custody of their two children.
The saga of suffering is recorded by the mother Sagarika Chakraborty in her book ‘The Journey of a Mother’.
Ashima Chibber, the Hyderabad-born director, decides to give it currency with Rani Mukherjee playing the lead and thus, ‘Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway’ is born.
The film is multi-layered. Written by a woman, telling the story of a woman and told by a woman, you would hope it has the right sensitivity and it would enhance the Rudyard Kipling declaration that “God could not be at all places and thus created mothers”.
We have had directors go to Rani Mukherjee when scripts wanted the central character to be a star who could also perform.
Without much ado, Ashima Chibber gets to the story straight away with three officers of the Velfred (the foster home and child care wing of the Norwegian government) literally kidnapping the infant Suchi and later whisking away the kid Subh from school.
The parents — the Chatterjees (Anibran Bhattacharya), eagerly working towards his citizenship card in Norway and his wife (Rani Mukherjee) — are shocked when the regular visitors who had entered the household 10 weeks ago under the guise of doing a ‘home study’ show up as a team of ill-meaning rescue team that exhibits neither tact nor concern in the entire episode.
One layer of the story deals with cultural differences between the two nations and their respective versions of how homes should be and how children should be reared. Then there is the over-the-top tale of a typical Indian domestic scenario, where the woman is doing the hard work and the man is calling the shots.
Mrs Chatterjee is the typical mother, making a virtue of an untidy home and burning the candle at both ends to look after her children. These two layers converge in conflict. It could have been a good idea to take the conflict to its logical conclusion and reflect on the differences in the approach and even the differing legal systems.
The director is, however, busy adding more layers and thus, gets in the angle of a father, who cares a tad more for his citizenship card than the well-being of his children. She pushes the envelope further with the members of the Chatterjee family adding their bit after being lampooned as gold-diggers who throw caution to the wind.
Too many of the layers show Mrs Chatterjee fighting the many challenges and as time goes by, you realise it is no longer about ‘Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway’ but it is more appropriately Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway et al.
The challenges that could have been documented as a well-structured clash between different cultures and systems peter into a tragic melodrama. However, the film keeps you engrossed whenever it is dealing with the clash between the hurt mother and the heartless system guided by regulations and completely indifferent to cultural differences.
A further probe and reflection (even refraction) would have made for some wonderful viewing but again, Bollywood is an archive of missed chances and possibilities. So it is this Friday too.
Rani Mukherjee’s is the only performance worth talking about and her performance is marred by a lack of consistency.
She is often seen shrieking and shouting as if she were doing a Hindi remake of a South Indian melodrama of the early 60s. However, she is full of poise and poignance in many scenes reliving the trauma of the protagonist who is not only fighting a system but also prejudice.
She peaks when pushed and reiterates her quality as an actress. Directors flock to her or Vidya Balan when they have scripts with heavy-duty drama.
It is Rani who tries hard to keep things going here. She tries and there lies the tragedy of ‘Ms Chatterjee Vs Norway’.
Interestingly, the Norwegian ambassador has made his view known and has spoken of how his government is genuinely concerned about children and how a happy child is an asset. He has mildly questioned the portrayal and the narrative.
However, we live in times when narratives are accepted only when they are exaggerated and one-sided. I guess the filmmaker was, at best, making use of the shortcomings of the time....