Rani Mukerji lets it rip and the movie stumbles over its excesses -1.5 stars

Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway review: Rani Mukerji gets ripped and the movie stumbles over her excesses

Rani Mukerji and Mrs. Chatterjee against Norway. (courtesy: zeestudiosofficial)

Discard: Rani Mukerji, Anirban Bhattacharya, Neena Gupta, Jim Sarbh, Tiina Taurae

Director: Ashima Chibber

Rating: One and a half stars (out of 5)

A film that has its heart in the right place – or so it seems at first glance – should definitely deserve a generous round of applause. Mrs. Chatterjee against Norway, directed by Ashima Chibber, is not. Almost everything else in the overworked and exhausting film, including Rani Mukerji’s central performance, is completely out of whack.

The doughy melodrama revolves around a mother’s agony of being separated from her children in a foreign land. The film goes out of its way to paint an entire foster care system as malicious and compromised. The brazenly broad strokes do little justice to the story of a distraught woman pushed against the wall and left with no choice but to fight to find her children.

Mrs. Chatterjee against Norway is based on a true story. One can fully understand what the aggrieved mother would have gone through as she confronted a heartless system bent on subjugating her. Unfortunately, the movie never rings true because it’s way too shrill and not subtle.

Debika Chatterjee (Rani Mukerji) suffers the consequences of doing with her children – a two-year-old boy and a five-month-old girl – what most Indian mothers tend to do regularly as parents. She does not understand why feeding a child with her hand would be interpreted as force-feeding and used as a pretext to accuse her of being unfit to be a mother.

The film is mainly about a clash of cultures – one that immigrants often encounter in their adopted country – and its unfortunate fallout. The character’s brutal handling of the ordeal and his response to it turn his despair into spectacle. What could have been a real heartfelt cry turns into a shrill scream in the process.

Two women from Norwegian child protection services who take Debika’s children are projected as unscrupulous operators who give the Indian lady no chance to get her message across before they take action. Debika begs and hollers but to no avail.

Rani Mukerji, a performer with proven abilities, is disappointed with the writing. She struggles to find the right notes. It oscillates between the shaken and the hoarse. As a result, the essence of the character never quite emerges.

When the 135-minute drama, after about an hour and a half, settles into a slightly more controlled pace, Mukerji steps into his stride. But in light of the mutilation the story of Debika’s perseverance in the face of daunting odds has suffered in the first half, there’s little left for the film to save as it approaches its climax.

The screenplay by Sameer Satija, Ashima Chibber and Rahul Handa was adapted from a published account by a Kolkata woman of her contact with Norway’s uncompromising child welfare system. It’s too erratic to make the most of the story’s deeply emotional core.

Unbridled melodrama is the film’s preferred mode, taking away from the ability to capitalize on a compelling real-life story. You obviously want to understand Debika’s plight as she fights forces that want to crush her, but due to the way the film depicts the courtroom feuds – in Norway and Kolkata – the character does not develop into a believable figure nor does his story move audiences as it should.

The film opens with Debika’s children being surreptitiously driven away in a government vehicle from her home in Stavanger. She runs after the vehicle, screaming and screaming. Her son Shubho, a boy with autism spectrum disorder, and daughter Shuchi, a toddler, left before she knew what hit her.

After being observed and questioned for several days and after a Norwegian government adviser reviews her habits as a parent, Debika learns that her children cannot be left with her. Her husband, Aniruddha (Anirban Bhattacharya), an engineer, seems to be supportive but has far too much on his mind to be of much help.

The aggrieved lady does her cause little good by resorting to terribly desperate measures. The child protection machinery pins her to the ground as she stakes everything on her attempts to regain custody of her children. Some of her actions seem illogical but understandable given the anguish she finds herself in. Why then is the film and the lady at its center unable to move us emotionally?

Debika’s actions are often at odds with who she is – an educated woman who has been in Norway long enough to appreciate the differences between her own culture and the Norwegian ethos. Instead of making Debika look like a feisty and courageous mother, the film reduces her to a creaky, volatile and hyperventilating woman.

Such inconsistencies also derail the film’s two main male characters – Debika’s husband and an Indian-born lawyer Daniel Singh Ciupek (Jim Sarbh) who represents her in court. It is difficult to understand exactly what they are trying to achieve. One moment they are with Debika, the next moment they are not.

Anirban Bhattacharya and Jim Sarbh are accomplished actors. Their performances are noticeably more polished than the film as a whole. But Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway is a Rani Mukerji show. She’s the lone star here. It makes all others insignificant.

In a movie about a woman fighting the good fight, the script leaves no wiggle room for the other women in the story. Neena Gupta has a fleeting appearance as an Indian minister during a visit to Oslo to sign an Indo-Norwegian agreement.

Both mothers – Debika’s and Aniruddha’s – are non-entities. The first is tried by Saswati Guhathakurta, the second by Mithu Chakraborty. Both are Bengali television and film veterans, but that doesn’t matter much here. One doesn’t even get a line, the other is reduced to a cantankerous stepmother who raves and fumes in a few scenes and disappears.

Rani Mukerji, for her part, lets herself be torn apart and the film stumbles over her excesses. Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway is an overheated affair that sucks the air of an inherently moving story that deserved infinitely better.

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