The trailer of Rani Mukerji’s latest film Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway is making waves since its release on YouTube for portraying the heart-wrenching yet brave tale of a Bengali mother who waged a war with the Norwegian government after her two children were snatched away by the Child Welfare Services on charges of ‘neglect’ and ‘emotional disconnect’.
The 2.48 minute-long trailer, released on Thursday, begins with Debika (played by Rani), a resident of Kolkata, setting up her new home in Oslo with her husband, ‘Mr. Chatterjee’ and her two children, Shubh and Suchi. She is basking in the bliss of her new life until one day the Child Welfare Services (CWS), also known as Barnevarne, come knocking and whisk away her children, only to put them in foster care. The emotional turmoil Debika undergoes, her struggle in a foreign land with what appears to be little help from her husband, and fight against the system to get back the custody of her children make the rest of the trailer.
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Sagarika Chakraborty, on whom Rani’s character is based, lived the nightmare in real life. Like the trailer of Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway depicts, she and her geophysicist husband, Anurup Bhattacharya, lost their children – two-year-old Abhigyan and four-month-old Aishwarya – to Barnevarne in 2011 for reasons as vague as making them sleep with her in the same cot and feeding them with hands – common among Indian parents.
The children were ordered to remain in foster care till they turned 18 as Sagarika, then in her late twenties, was deemed mentally unfit to care for them.
It was the beginning of a two-year legal battle for Sagarika, a resident of North 24 Parganas district, who so far had not ventured out of the country.
“They do not even consider cultural differences in raising a child and simply took away my children, branding me unfit. Sleeping on the same cot with the children, feeding them with bare hands being among the reasons. My son had some developmental issues while my daughter was still being breastfed when they were snatched away from me. Imagine my plight at that time,” Sagarika told TOI in an interview when the film was announced last year.
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The incident grabbed global headlines, prompting human rights activists to put pressure on the Indian government to intervene. The CWS relented after a year and sent the children to India in April 2012. But the battle didn’t end Sagarika’s fight as she was already branded unfit to care for her children and a paternal uncle in Kulti was thus handed over the children’s custody. Sagarika had to make rounds of Indian courts to get them back.
She was finally vindicated when the Calcutta High Court in January 2013 handed over her children to her.
Sagarika now works as an IT professional in Noida while her children are with her parents in Birati.
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The trailer of Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway also shows glimpses of how the custody battle took a toll on Sagarika’s marriage which eventually broke down.
The film is likely to resonate with many NRIs who find Indian values in conflict with western laws, and face the threat of losing the custody of their children in the event of the slightest ‘discrepancy’.
Directed by Ashima Chibber, the film will be Rani’s second outing in two years – she was last seen opposite Saif Ali Khan in Bunty Aur Babli 2 in 2021. It is set to hit the theatres on March 17 2023.
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