Directed by Ashima Chibber, “Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway” is based on Sagarika Bhattacharya’s nearly two-year-long battle to win custody of her children. The movie hits the ground running, quite literally, as Debika’s children are whisked away by Norway’s child welfare services, and she injures herself very badly while trying to chase them. Debika and her husband Aniruddha are informed that they aren’t fit to parent their own children, Shubh and Shuchi, because of their unhygienic practices and since Aniruddha doesn’t help Debika in terms of looking after the kids and household chores. The Norwegian government assigns them a lawyer who comes close to assuring the authorities that there’s been a misunderstanding due to cultural differences, and it seems that the Chatterjees are going to get their children back. But the child welfare services reverse order, which essentially begins Debika’s two-year-long separation from her son and daughter.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Norwegian Child Welfare Services
The Norwegian Child Welfare Services are portrayed as the main villains of “Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway.” They keep an unnecessarily watchful eye on Debika, Aniruddha, and the way that they take care of Shubo and Shuchi. Technically, that’s not wrong. But they don’t give any clear guidelines regarding what they should or shouldn’t do. They don’t take their economic conditions into consideration. They secretly take notes about Debika and Aniruddha’s activities. They inconvenience them by meddling with Shuchi’s vaccination schedule. And without giving any intimation about their next plans, they essentially kidnap the two kids, causing even more stress to the couple, who are trying to adjust to the customs of Norway. Now, to be honest, the points that the welfare services bring up aren’t wrong. Parents who can’t take care of their children and still keep producing kids should be reprimanded for this irresponsible behavior. However, the issue here wasn’t Debika’s abilities as a mother. It was Aniruddha’s abusive behavior toward Debika.
If the welfare services were really that concerned about the well-being of the children, they should have arrested Aniruddha and ensured that Debika and her children got the support they needed. Since that goes against their business plan, they do everything they can to put the two kids in foster care. What’s the business plan, you ask? Well, apparently, Norway boasts about its economy and lifestyle to attract immigrants. Once these immigrant families get there, they’re inundated with all kinds of rules and regulations on top of the regular stuff that they’re following. When they fail to comply, they put their kids into foster care and put them up for adoption. The money that comes from this process benefits the welfare center and the lawyers who fight for and against them. Actually, any child who gets into a foster family is lucky because if they don’t, as per the film, they go off for child prostitution.
Aniruddha Chatterjee and the In-Laws
Debika’s husband, Aniruddha, is the second villain of “Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway.” Well, maybe he’s the biggest villain in this situation because he’s the one who insisted Debika marry him, move to Norway, have kids, look after the kids, and look after him (because he can’t do a single thing on his own). It’s not clear if he’s any good at his job, which is where he spends most of his time. His one and only priority is acquiring his Norwegian citizenship, and for that, he’s apparently ready to let go of his kids and his wife. And in addition to all that, he constantly demeans Debika publicly and physically abuses her at home.
This man can’t even imagine helping Debika with household chores and looking after his kids because he thinks doing his job and earning money is enough. But isn’t every Norwegian household doing it? Aren’t they sharing their tasks while doing their daily jobs? So, why should it be different for Aniruddha? Because he’s an Indian upper-caste man whose body is made of patriarchy and misogyny? Well, that’s clearly not a good enough reason. That said, if you are infuriated by Aniruddha’s actions, then you’re going to love his father, mother, and brother. Aniruddha’s parents constantly poke Debika instead of helping her with the whole situation because that’s usually what Bengali in-laws do. However, Aniruddha’s brother is a snake because he takes money from the welfare services to become Shubh and Shuchi’s foster father until they turn 18. He promises that, after returning to India, he’s going to give them back to Debika and then refuses to do so, even though he or his parents are unfit to take care of the kids.
The Norwegian Government, Justice System, and Citizens
It’s tough to determine if the Norwegian government and its justice system are just following the rules or if they are purposefully being strict about it to keep their foster care business alive. On one hand, we see them talking on the basis of facts and figures while observing how both parties (the Chatterjees and the welfare services) are wrong in their own ways. But on the other hand, you see them siding with the welfare services at the end of the day. Daniel Ciupek, the second lawyer that the Norwegian government assigns to the Chatterjees, fights against the welfare services. He highlights how the welfare services do not have the budget to take care of the children they are whisking away, and he even alleges that they are guilty of the increase in child prostitution in Norway. He even brings up Berit Hansen to make a case against the childcare welfare services, claiming that they aren’t taking proper care of the children and are wrongfully painting mothers such as Debika as mentally unstable.
However, as soon as Daniel is off the case, he fights for Norway and against the Chatterjees, putting forth the argument that Debika is not fit to take care of Shubh and Shuchi and that they should be returned to Norway. The citizens of Norway, which includes Hansen, initially work for the system for the 15 minutes of fame that they get for harassing Debika. After realizing how much pain they’ve caused, though, they support her and even carry out rallies against the Norwegian government and the justice system with the demand that Shubh and Shuchi be returned to Debika. Most of the South Asian citizens in Norway, with the exception of the translator for the welfare services, stand unanimously behind Debika, especially the mothers who have been harmed by the authorities and are aware of Debika’s abusive husband.
The Indian Government
It’s quite interesting how the Indian government is portrayed in “Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway.” We see that Vasudha Kamat, the Indian Foreign Minister, arrives in Norway for a telecom deal and immediately puts it on hold after learning about Debika’s plight. This forces the Norwegian government to settle the situation as quickly as possible because it’s a bad look for them. Kamat assigns Madhusudhan, a government official, to look over the case. Madhusudhan sees to it that Debika’s children are put in Aniruddha’s brother’s custody so that she can take care of them once they return to India. But when Aniruddha and his family back out of this deal and refuse to let Debika see her children, Madhusudhan offers some words of solace, and Kamat is nowhere to be seen.
So, it seems like they took an interest in the case for publicity. The issue was brought up in a conference involving Madhusudhan and Kamat. If they shut her down instantly, they’d come off as villains. If they didn’t momentarily back off from the telecom deal, people would think they were inhumane. And by doing all this, while Norway berated a stressed-out mother, the Indian government came off as the bigger person. However, when they were really needed, they were of no use because the telecom deal was already done, and there were no headlines to be made. Yes, Brinda Karat and the late Sushma Swaraj get a note of thanks in the credits. That said, their fictional version comes off as a little selfish and performative.
‘Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway’ Ending Explained: How Did The Kolkata High Court Help Debika?
During the third act of the film, Aniruddha’s in-laws refuse to give the child to Debika while taking money from the Norwegian government, as Aniruddha’s brother is Shubh and Shuchi’s foster father. But the real kicker comes when Aniruddha, while in Norway, forces Debika to divorce him. So, she’s already fighting against Aniruddha’s in-laws over the custody of the kids. If she signs the divorce papers, she has to fight a totally different case. That’s why, before going ahead with the divorce, she signs up Ms. Pratap to deal with the in-laws. For clarity’s sake, the battle is between the in-laws and Debika over who gets to keep the children. However, that’s when Daniel enters the picture again, on behalf of the Norwegian government, and argues that neither Aniruddha’s brother nor Debika is fit to take care of the children and that they should be returned to Norway, where they’ll get care, educational guidance, and job opportunities that Debika and India won’t be able to provide. After three days of intense to-and-fro between the three parties, Pratap proves that Debika is completely fit to take care of Shubh and Shuchi and that she should have them back. Daniel agrees with this verdict, and Aniruddha and his in-laws boil into their personal hells. Before the credits roll, we learn that Sagarika, on whom the character Debika is based, is currently living happily with her children.
The verdict of the Kolkata High Court underscores the message of “Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway” pretty clearly, which is that court cases need to be dealt with empathy. The theory isn’t applicable to every criminal case involving heinous crimes. But when it’s a human rights issue, strictly sticking to facts and figures does not work. Lawyers, investigators, etc., have to dig deeper to see what the actual issues are or if there’s an issue at all and a woman is being falsely painted as a crazy mother for someone else’s monetary gain. That said, too much of anything is harmful. For example, there are a lot of lectures in the movie about Indian culture and how Indian mothers are different and how they love their children differently, and so on and so forth. That might be applicable to Debika. However, generally speaking, it’s high time Indians understood whether they are fit for marriage before getting into it and giving birth to a couple of children just because they have to. Saying “we are doing alright” repeatedly while sweeping years of trauma under the rug and passing all the bad parenting you’ve received onto the next generation isn’t a good idea. Debika’s speech partially encapsulates that, as she highlights how Indian women are shoved from one situation to another until they reach a point where they don’t even know what they want from life. That’s a thing that needs to be fixed as soon as possible, instead of covering it up with the words “Indian culture,”
Final Thoughts On ‘Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway’
“Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway” clearly brings up a lot of important points, starting from the dangers of foster care to abusive and misogynistic husbands. Alvar Kue’s cinematography and Namrata Rao’s editing are top-notch. The performances of Jim Sarbh and Anirban Bhattacharya are excellent. The arguments brought up during the courtroom scenes give the film a sense of complexity and gravitas. But Rani Mukerji’s performance, Ashima Chibber’s direction, and the writing by Chibber, Satija, and Handa leave much to be desired. Mukerji is clearly doing a lot. This is a very physically and emotionally demanding performance. However, given how capable Mukerji is as an actor, you can clearly see her excelling in the quieter moments. There’s a split-second scene where she imagines Shubh playing in front of her, and then the frame gets filled with reporters, and Mukerji goes from elation to heartbreak so beautifully. That’s why it boggles my mind that Chibber decided to keep her in the screeching mode for more than two hours. The dialogue and plot beats are repetitive, thereby reducing the desperation and urgency of the plot. All the last-minute nationalism is stupid. The songs are completely unnecessary. The pacing is bad, largely due to the flashbacks. Hence, the overall viewing experience is exhausting rather than emotionally riveting. Still, I’d say it’s worth a watch, especially if you’re deciding to shift to Norway or become a parent.