Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway: I broke down when I saw the film, says Sagarika, the real mother

Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway: 'I broke down when I saw the film,' says Sagarika, the real mother

Sagarika Chakraborty recalls breaking down while watching a particular scene in the latest Bollywood film Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway, at a special screening in Mumbai on March 9. As she watched an emotional Rani Mukerji in the film crying out in fear and blind panic, trying to prevent the Norway child welfare authorities from taking away her two toddlers, she started to cry quietly in her seat.

As Sagarika saw the actor mirroring all that anguish and pain she had felt nearly 12 years ago, struggling to comprehend why her tiny tots were taken by the authorities, all the memories of that ugly episode which has marked her life to date came flooding back.

In an exclusive, telephonic interview with The Federal, the Noida-based Sagarika, who is currently shifting to Pune to work for a software company, says, “While I was watching that scene, all the memories of that time came flooding back and I broke down. It was a poignant moment since Rani has really managed to convey what happened to me on screen.”

Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway,Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway is based on a 2022 book, ‘The Journey of a Mother’ written by Sagarika, on a tragic incident which had disrupted her life forever.

In 2011, the Norwegian Child Welfare Services, known as the Barnevernet (which translates to ‘child protection’) took away both her 5-month old daughter, Aishwarya and two-year-old son Abhigyaan. They were to be kept in a foster home till they turned 18 years. The Barnevernet had purportedly kept the Indian NRI couple, Sagarika and her geophysicist husband, Anurup Bhattacharya (the couple had moved to Norway in 2007 ), “under observation’’ for months because of what they termed as ‘improper parenting’.

This incident started Sagarika on a journey that lasted more than two years to fight the Norway government and later her husband’s family, to get custody of her children.

Also read: ‘Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway’: Real story of a mother that inspired Rani Mukerji film

This ‘woman-centric’ movie, which has Rani Mukerji essaying Sagarika, captures her  journey to get back her children. Sagarika is totally in sync with Rani, a Bengali, playing her “because then she can beautifully portray the Bengali culture”, which is essential to the story, she says.

Besides raving about Rani’s “mind-blowing” performance, the release of the film is a “big” moment for Sagarika. “I hope this film will throw light on the unlawful practices in SOME western countries. The Norwegian families who foster these kids taken over by the child welfare services, are paid huge sums,” alleges Sagarika.

“I fought against a government and everyone is going to see the film, including Norwegian citizens. I have a lot of friends in human rights organisations in Norway, and elsewhere around the world and they are all eagerly waiting to see the film, ” she says, adding that Norwegian citizens are on her side.

Sagarika, who calls Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway a ‘heart-wrenching’ film, believes the director has done a good job of the film. “She has managed to capture some important parts of the book, for it is difficult to condense my struggle of two years and two months in just 2 hours 15 minutes. She has made a good movie but if you want to know more you need to read the book,” says Sagarika, who claims to now be the sole breadwinner in her family after being separated from her husband.

Rani Mukherjee
Sagarika with her daughter and Rani Mukerji

Her two children, her 14-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl live with her parents in Kolkata, while Sagarika says she is trying to stand on her feet and support her family.

“I did a Masters in computer applications and I’ve been working as a software engineer for the past four years. I’ve written my book, ‘Journey of a Mother’, which got published last year. Now, the film has released, so I have been busy trying to stand on my own feet, which is necessary for all Indian women,” stresses the 40-year-old Sagarika.

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She is also currently supporting the NRI Gujarati couple, whose one-and-half-year-old infant, Ariha Shah was taken by German child services in February 2021 in Berlin. The child had suffered an injury in her private parts and suspecting sexual abuse, the child was handed over by the hospital to child services. This child abuse allegation was disproved later.

“I am trying to help the mother Dhara Shah – they are fighting a legal case. There are many such cases and I want to show the way to these parents on how they can bring back their children to India,” she says.

In such cases, it is important to reach out to higher-ups in the external affairs ministry, she says. Sagarika reminisces how her parents had staged a sit-in outside Parliament and sought the help of the then external affairs minister SM Krishna and later Sushma Swaraj to intervene in her case. “It’s not easy to meet the ministers, but CPI (M) leader Brinda Karat helped us to push my case forward,” she recalls.

Sagarika faced obstacles at every step. At one point, she was fighting alone with the Norway child services and the government, as her marriage started to disintegrate when her husband turned unsupportive (you will see this in the film, she says).

“I returned to India because in Norway, I was not going to get custody of my children. They were given to my husband’s brother,” she recounts. The Norwegian Child Welfare Services handed the two children over to their uncle and grandfather in Kulti near Asansol, West Bengal, in April 2012. After returning to India, she alleges that her in-laws turned against her and threw her out of their home. Finally, she took her husband’s family to court and the Kolkata high court granted her custody of her children in 2012.

“The Norway government told me that I am a bad mother. But, I don’t know whether I am a bad mother or a good mother, I know one thing, I am just a mother. A mother who wanted the good of her child at any cost,” she says emotionally.

Sagarika alleges her son got affected by the entire episode and still suffers mental trauma, while her daughter was unaffected since she was a baby. “In Norway, my son was diagnosed as autistic but he actually suffers from ADHD, he doesn’t have autism,” she says. Also, upset with a husband who never stood by her, she is all set to get a divorce shortly.

Sagarika says hopefully, Mrs Chaterjee vs Norway will empower homemakers in a patriarchal society. “I hope this film opens people’s eyes and helps to usher in change. I know cases in Bengal, where women are tortured by their in-laws for dowry and are treated like a maid in the house. The woman who has gone to a new home is struggling to cope and is lonely. She may have had to stop working to bring up the children, it’s then the family needs to support her. But that doesn’t happen,” she points out.

Determined to take her story to a wider audience, Sagarika approached many production companies to sell the rights to her book. She finally zeroed in on director Ashima Chibber. But, due to COVID, she was unable to meet Rani Mukerji instead, Chibber recorded her conversations with her to play to the actor. When Rani met her at the screening for the first time, she hugged her and told her that she is an “inspirational figure”, she recounts.

“Rani Mukerji told me you have gone through so much as a mother. I am a mother too and I cannot imagine the kind of pain you had suffered,” says Sagarika. This film, ‘Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway’ and my story tells the incredible power behind a mother’s love, she asserts.

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