The disclaimer at the beginning of Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway states that it is merely inspired by “certain” real facts and that creative liberty has been taken by the makers to dramatize the events and make the narrative more engaging, but if we were to believe the real-life Mrs. Chatterjee, Sagarika Bhattacharya, then all of it is entirely true. The film is based on a book written by Sagarika herself, and she has gone on record to say that though the film covers her life story in broad strokes, there are a lot of things that were not shown. The Norwegian government has totally denied all the allegations that were shown in Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway and said that Norway is a country that recognizes diversity and would never commit such an act based on cultural differences. The Norwegian government sticks to the fact that in their 10-week evaluation of the child welfare organization, they found the environment of the house not conducive to bringing up children. So, let’s revisit a few of those harrowing scenes and find out if they actually happened in real life and where Ashima Chibber and her team of writers took creative liberties.
Debika Chatterjee and her husband, Anirudh Chatterjee’s characters derive their inspiration from the real-life couple Sagarika and Anurup Bhattacharya. In Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway, we saw that Debika and Anirudh’s neighbors had filed a complaint when Debika’s hand was fractured after her husband assaulted her. According to Sagarika’s book, she was subjected to domestic violence more than often, and the creators of the film have not dramatized those sequences in any manner. Sagarika has also gone on record and said that the scene where her husband slaps her, and then she retaliates and slaps him back, also happened in reality, after which she was actually locked in her bedroom, and her husband didn’t let her come out.
As shown in the film, Sagarika does not share a very good relationship with her mother-in-law, who used to scorn her and try to find every opportunity to belittle her. There is no smoke without fire, and though we do not intend to pass an “ex-parte” judgment, we can safely say that Sagarika wasn’t happy in her marriage, and she was subjected to violence in her house and nobody objected to it and it felt like they considered it normal behavior. We cannot even imagine the plight of the young woman and what she would have to go through to get custody of her children. She was stuck in a foreign land where she felt that the authorities just wanted to take away her children, and in addition to that, her husband was telling her that it was all her fault. The impression that we got of Sagarika’s husband and in-laws after watching Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway and also after hearing her speak on multiple platforms was that they were extremely patriarchal and misogynistic. Sagarika’s husband was very clear that because he was the breadwinner of the house, he wouldn’t help her with household chores. Actually, his problem wasn’t that he wasn’t helping, but that he believed that it was not his duty, as a male, to cook food and clean the house. This is actually a generic problem with a majority of Indian men, who, though, do not mean any harm, end up being quite patriarchal when it comes to things like cooking and other such chores.
I am personally proud of my nation, but there is not a lot of scope for improvement, especially when it comes to the sensibilities of Indian males. I am not saying that all Indian males are chauvinistic, but in a majority of the household, the division of work is quite unequal. We have all seen the women of our house working tirelessly when the guests arrive home while their male counterparts are given the duty of sitting with the guests and entertaining them. Though situations are changing with time, we still have a long way to go, and men have to understand that taking their female counterparts for granted, not giving them the respect they deserve, and blatantly stating that jobs like cooking food are solely the responsibility of a woman is not acceptable. We talked about all this because we saw that Aniruddha didn’t think that he had done anything wrong by hitting his wife, and he believed that she deserved to be treated like that. Debika also didn’t speak up against it, as she must have gotten accustomed to it over a period of time.
Neena Gupta plays the character of a minister named Vasudha Kamat, who was leading the Indian envoy and had come to sign a telecom treaty with Norway. Vasudha raised the issues in the parliament that brought Debika’s case to light, and the Indian government finally came out in support of her. In real life too, Sagarika was helped by former minister of external affairs, Late Sushma Swaraj and former member of Rajya Sabha Brinda Karat, and even the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh personally talked to his Norwegian counterpart and addressed the issue.
Norway’s child welfare organization, commonly referred to as Barnevernet, had made certain allegations in real life that, according to the Indian context, were common practices done by almost every parent. Sagarika was accused of feeding her baby with her hands; the parents were blamed for sleeping in the same room as their children; Sagarika was once seen slapping her baby; and in addition to all this, Barnevernet officials even said that the environment of the house was not fine. It might have been true that the couple fought and disagreed on a lot of things, but the question is, was that reason enough to take their children from them? The organization also had a notorious reputation and had often come under the radar of law enforcement authorities for not carrying out its duties properly. It was claimed that the funds that were allocated by the Norwegian government for child welfare services were misappropriated and not used for the betterment of the children. Some reports also said that they even gave corporal punishment to the children living under their care, though the Norwegian government always denied it.
The character of Anurag Chatterjee in Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway was based on a person named Arunabhas Bhattacharya, who was Sagarika’s brother-in-law in real life. According to Sagarika, Arunabhas was far more evil and shrewd as compared to her husband, and she believes that the film approached his character very mildly. Sagarika had gone on record and said that Anurup, his brother Arunabhas, and their mother teamed up against her and tortured her every day after the babies were taken from them. As shown in Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway, Avigyan was on the autism spectrum, and Sagarika tried to give him the best possible treatment.
Once again, we reiterate that we are not taking sides and that our speculation about things is solely based on the testimonies and facts that are present in the public forum. Anurup Bhattacharya never tried contacting his children after Sagarika won the battle for their custody. Today, Sagarika is financially independent and though she does encounter a few issues now and then, she lives happily with her children, Avigyan and Aishwarya. The entire nation has immense respect for Sagarika and all the other women like her for standing up for themselves and making sure that society knows that they can’t be dictated to or oppressed and be expected to bear that quietly.