Motherhood trumps everything

A heartfelt film that exposes the impacts of culturally-insensitive care systems on the lives of immigrant mothers and their children

Motherhood trumps everything


ased on the real-life story of an immigrant mother who had to fight against the system to regain the custody of her children in Norway because she was deemed an ‘unfit mother’ by authorities, Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway is more of a two-and-a-half hour gateway to a world pockmarked with systemic injustice and legal lacunae than a movie – but it is that as well.

This film, written and directed by AsmaChibber is available on OTT platforms including Netflix. It features a stellar cast with Rani Mukherjee playing the role of DebikaChatterjee, the protagonist. The rest of the cast features talented actors such as Jim Sarbh andAnirban Bhattacharya in main roles.Neena Gupta makes a guest appearance.

The first half of the film is set in Stavanger, Norway, and the second half in India.Debika Chatterjee is an immigrant Bengali mother with two children who fights a legal battle against the state to reunite with her children.

The film opens with three social workers leaving with two children in a hurry and swiftly leaping into a car. Then, we see Mrs Chatterjee, their mother, running after the authorities and pleading with them to return her children. Her lamentations fall on deaf ears.

As the car speeds off, Debikaruns after it, chasing it until she trips and falls. Her husband quickly rushes to the spot in his car and the two brown parents race after the vehicle veering away with their children.

None of this works. The parents are informed by the authorities that their children are now wards of the state due to certain observations made by the social workers who have been visiting the family daily for some weeks. “Hire a lawyer,” they are told. So they decide to sue.

They win the case but then a stay order is issued. Debika’s parents arrive in Norway to give her emotional and moral support. Her husband is reluctant to hire a private lawyer as that would cost a fortune.

Jim Sarbh as Daniel Singh is then hired by the state as their second lawyer.He is of Indian origin but was adopted by a Norwegian family.

Meanwhile, Mrs Chatterjee finds out from a friend that making children wards of the state and housing them with foster families is an extremely lucrative business. She then meets another woman who lost her children to state custody.

After the revelation, Debikatries again to persuade her husband to hire a private lawyer. However, all he seems to be worried about is his citizenship and how this legal battle might harm his case.

Watch it for the powerful performances, excellent script and direction. If that’s not reason enough already, watch it to relive the true story of Sagarika Chakraborty, a Bengali mother who leaves no stone unturned in her quest for justice.

Debika, in desperation, kidnaps her children and succeeds in crossing the border with them. Another twist soon follows; the mother is tracked and taken into custody. She escapes deportation by a whisker.

Debika Chatterjee soon loses hope in the legal system and considers other options. She decides to appeal to VasudhaKamat, the Indian external affairs minister, played by Neena Gupta, who is in the country to oversee the signing of a telecom agreement between India and Norway.

Mrs Chatterjee arrives at the press conference and requests that she be heard. Her appeal works out. The minister hears her out and stalls the deal, citing Mrs Chatterjee’s case whose children were taken from her on a flimsy pretext. This nexus between a predatory childcare system and the legal system, both of which are not immune to racial prejudice and discrimination, exists to financially benefit some government agencies.

Rani Mukherjee shines in a role which seems to be tailor-made for her. She plays to perfection the passionate and fiery Bengali mother determined to keep fighting until she sees her children again. Jim Sarbh as Mr and Mrs Chatterjee’s lawyer delivers a fine performance as well.

The court scenes are filmed extremely well and both Jim and Rani do a commendable job. The contrast between rather quiet and sombre Scandinavians and a Bengali mother’s fiery entreaties is striking. She insists that she dotes on her children and cannot live without them. She is heard in cold silence.

The film can leave the viewer teary-eyed at many junctures. It is easy to empathisewith the mother. Her in-laws seem to be straight from hell. They make her life even more miserable.

While Debika is passionate about getting her children back, her husband becomes nonchalant. He comes across as a rather self-seeking and selfish character who is quite content with the statusquo and is determined to let nothing stand in the way of his citizenship, even if it means losing his children.

He has been accused of domestic violence and was reported to the police by an Indian colleague because he broke his wife’s arm.

The movie is worthwatching and re-watching. Rani’s Oscar-worthy performance makes the audience root for her all the way till the end.

The supporting characters lend adequate support and keep the film going. With ample twists and turns and brilliantly-filmed court scenes, this movie makes one appreciate the lengths mothers can go to for their children.

Watch it for the powerful performances, excellent script and direction. If those are not reasons enough, watch it to relive the true story of a Bengali mother who leaves no stone unturned in her quest for justice.

The writer is an educationist and can be reached at gaiteeara

Motherhood trumps everything