STOCKHOLM – Mrs. Chatterjee vs Norway is a gut-wrenching Hindi drama highlighting the injustices brought to immigrant families at the hands of the Norwegian child protection authorities.
The Netflix film, released in March and based on a true story, follows Mrs. Debika Chatterjee [Rani Mukerji] and her legal battles against the Norwegian government for custody of her children.
The story shows flashbacks to an investigation in the Chatterjees’ home, where representatives for Velfred, the Norwegian child protection agency, unjustly scrutinize the cultural practices and parenting skills in a traditional Indian household, deeming Mrs. Chatterjee unfit to care for her children.
The remaining story highlights how Mrs. Chatterjee exhausts the domestic courts in her custody battle while struggling with her mental health and abuse at the hands of her husband and in-laws.
Her husband eventually coerces her into signing a deal where the children will be placed in the care of her in-laws in India. She does not realize that in signing, she will lose her ability to see her children, instead allowing her in-laws to hoard child support funds sent by the Norwegian government.
The case is finally brought before the Indian court, where the judge makes a final decision after an emotional custody battle.
Rani Mukerji is a household name in the Bollywood industry, acting in star-studded hits like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Some Things Happen) and Kabhi Khushi, Kabhie Gham… (Sometimes Happiness, Sometimes Sadness). But the somber, raw tone of this film differs from her previous roles, though her stellar performance suggests otherwise.
Not only was the film well done from an acting standpoint, it sheds light on the ugly truth of Norway’s deeply flawed child protective services.
Norway’s issues relating to child protective services have gone largely under the radar for years. From 2015-2023, 27 cases relating to child welfare have been brought against Norway in the European Court of Human Rights, 14 of which found that Norway violated the European Convention on Human Rights. This is an alarming rate in such a short time span, in spite of the government’s efforts to rectify the situation.
Much of the issue boils down to who decides what makes a good parent.
In the film, one crucial aspect is the cultural disconnect between Indian and Norwegian culture. It is normal in Indian households for mothers to feed their young children with their hands and to sleep beside them. Yet this is viewed by Velferd with disgust, with them considering it as abusive towards the children.
Where they are met with different but nevertheless loving customs, the Velferd representatives view Mrs. Chatterjee with suspicion, simply because her lifestyle and parenting is different from theirs.
Mrs. Chatterjee’s husband is also abusive and neglectful towards her in the film, which naturally puts their children in a negative environment. But instead of helping her leave this situation, Velferd takes her children away from her, further traumatizing the family.
The film shows how time and again, mothers are not supported by society but are instead villainized, with little responsibility being put on their spouses.
Ultimately, the misunderstandings and willful ignorance underpinning the case of Mrs. Chatterjee stem from the issue of intolerance. Painting all of Europe in this way would be a generalization, but it is likewise wrong to suggest that racism and xenophobia does not exist here.
Immigrant families are viewed with more suspicion and scrutiny than their native counterparts.
We speak our languages in whispers, have to work harder to shake off the stereotypes and our every move is perceived as inherently aggressive. It is an issue that transcends the film and speaks to a much broader experience.
The law is naturally a reflection of our society. And unfortunately, it mirrors the good and bad in the world in equal measure.
Mrs. Chatterjee vs Norway is merely one story of many that can help inform us about these issues. If we truly want to reform childcare and family law to provide true justice, we need to be prepared to have these open discussions.
I am optimistic that this film may, in part, be a catalyst for that.
Nargis Babar is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.