Top Bollywood star Rani Mukerji is basking in the box office success of “Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway,” which flies in the face of “cynicism” from “naysayers” as the actor describes it.
The film, directed by Ashima Chibber and written by Rahul Handa, Sameer Satija and Chibber, is based on the true story of an Indian couple whose children were taken away from them by Norwegian welfare services in 2011. Mukerji plays the titular Mrs. Chatterjee who battles with the Norwegian government to reunite with her children.
The modestly budgeted film released on March 17 and has grossed some $3.2 million worldwide so far.
“I truly believe that a good film will always find its audience, regardless of what the genre is. There was a lot of challenge for our film, because the new fashionable word that is going on is OTT ‘content’ – it is something that has bothered me a lot. Because I do believe that cinema is an experience to be had in the theaters,” Mukerji told Variety.
“There was so much cynicism before the release of the film and so many naysayers saying that fashionable term OTT content. So, it was really scary because when you are all alone, fighting this cynicism, I was just hoping and praying that the audience validates my belief in good cinema. And the audience has done that,” Mukerji said.
The film is produced by Zee Studios and Monisha Advani, Madhu Bhojwani and Nikkhil Advani’s Emmay Entertainment (“Bellbottom”). It is part of Zee Studios’ extensive 2023 slate.
The film’s depiction of the child welfare services in Norway led the country’s ambassador to India, Hans Jacob Frydenlund, to write an op-ed in The Indian Express newspaper.
“Given Rani Mukerji’s acting prowess it is difficult to remain unmoved by it, and movie-goers might come out thinking of Norway as an uncaring country,” Frydenlund wrote.
“The film projects cultural differences as the primary factor in the case, which is completely false,” Frydenlund wrote, adding, “I sincerely hope this movie will not discourage Indians from coming to Norway. I hope this film will be seen for what it is, and I trust in the viewers to understand that this is a fictional representation. For those involved, there is no denying that the experience was traumatic. Therefore, I hope that when Indians think of Norway, you can also focus on the good story, our common belief in the value of family life and appreciate what Norway and India have achieved together with years of mutual understanding and respect.”
In response, Mukerji said that “there’s no bigger validation” than the involvement of the Indian government in the resolution of the real-life case that the film is based on.
“For me, I would always stand by saying that this film was not made to villainize any country, this film was not made to put any country in a spotlight. This story was made to bring this heroic mother’s story to the people. The fact that this woman of Indian origin went through this ordeal, it was important for people to be aware of the story around the world to celebrate this mother’s journey, who fought tooth and nail to get the children back, because she believed that she did no wrong,” Mukerji said.
“It also highlights a particular organization, which is taking advantage of the well-being of children in a particular country. So it is not about blaming another country, it is not about saying things to make a country look bad, it is talking about what amends they need to make vis-a-vis this situation and be sensitive towards the fact that children are being separated from their parents,” Mukerji said.
Mukerji has not signed up another film. She says she would love to continue the Mardaani franchise, where she plays a tough cop, which has spawned two hit films in 2014 and 2019. Pradeep Sarkar, who directed “Mardaani,” died last week. The actor is waiting on a script for the next part from Gopi Puthran, who directed “Mardaani 2.”
“I’ll definitely have Dada’s [Sarkar’s] blessings for sure, for the third one,” Mukerji said.