Review: The film is inspired by the true story of Sagarika Chakraborty, an Indian woman whose children were taken away from her by the Norwegian government. Sagarika had made headlines in 2012 as she fought against the Norwegian authorities to get back custody of her children. The entire issue had even caused a diplomatic row between India and Norway.
Moving to the screen adaptation, Debika (Rani Mukerji) is a young Bengali housewife grappling with motherhood and her life in Norway. Even as her husband adapts to the Norwegian language and norms, she prefers to retain her Indian roots and wear them on her sleeve. Expect gorgeous Kolkata cotton saris on the lead actress in freezing Norway, over trench coats and she slipping into Bengali mid-conversation frequently. Her aversion to clone the Norwegian way of life and refusal to let go of her Indianness, draws the attention of some corrupt officers in the Norwegian childcare services. Common Indian practises like eating with hands, hand feeding your child, sleeping in the same bed as your child… are looked upon as bad parenting traits and reason enough to separate them from their parents.
Debika can barely think straight from the moment her kids are snatched away from her. Unaffected by the consequences, she recklessly and relentlessly vows to use any means necessary to rescue her children. Her imprudent behaviour becomes her worst enemy as it helps legitimise the abduction of her children under the guise of social work. How far would a mother go to reclaim her children? Can the Indian immigrant expose the scam that uses children and foster care to dupe the government?
“I don’t know whether I’m a good mother or a bad mother but I’m a mother”, confesses Debika as she pleads with several courts in India and Norway for justice. She is made to run from pillar to post for three years to get the custody of her children after being implicated for mental instability. Ashima Chibber, who has previously directed ‘Mere Dad Ki Maruti’ helms Mrs. Chatterjee Vs Norway. She skims through some valid arguments on patriarchy, domestic violence being normalised in most Indian families and what constitutes a ‘good mother’. She doesn’t whitewash her flawed lead character either, but we wish she had dug deeper. The intent is visible, but execution barely scratches the surface.
Most characters are one-dimensional caricatures that don’t go beyond their story’s Wikipedia phase of research. With a solid actor like Rani Mukerji at hand, the director could have moulded her into a far more nuanced character than the one we get. The actress who has the potential to be effortless on camera, goes theatrical and excessive. Her high-decibel fight for justice clutters the first half with more noise, less grief. However, she gets the tone of her character right in the second half when the silence leaves you more room to think and feel. Rani becomes Sagarika Chakraborty gradually and is effective once she lets her eyes speak volumes. Co-written by Ashima, Rahul Handa and Sameer Satija, the film is loaded with drama, crowd-pleasing dialogue, and stereotypes. The bad guys keep making evil faces to show that they are the bad guys (read Norwegian childcare women). Rani keeps chanting, “Mere Shubh aur Suchi mujhe wapas chahiye” endlessly.
Jim Sarbh gives the film its finest moments and uplifts it. It is his restrained portrayal of a lawyer of Indian origin in Norway, that captures the heart of this film. Sarbh makes you think when his character (Daniel) questions the notion that adoptive parents cannot be as loving and caring as biological parents. You wish there was more of him and his arguments in a rather convenient climax.
Amit Trivedi’s music embodies the spirit of a fearless mother. ‘Shubho Shubho’ tugs at your heartstrings. The film could have achieved a similar effect if it wasn’t for its populist approach and dramatic execution.