The true story behind Rani Mukherjee’s latest film ‘Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway’

Rani Mukherjee returns to the big screen with her latest film, Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway, which is set for release on March 17th this year. The film’s trailer was released on February 23 and created a lot of buzz around the film, which is based on the real-life story of an Indian woman who defiantly stands up to the Norwegian government to reunite her children.

What’s happened? We take a look at the decades-old case and one mother’s journey to lobbying nation states for the good of her children.

New beginnings in Norway go wrong

Sagarika Chakraborty married geophysicist Anurup Bhattacharya and the couple moved to Norway in 2007. A year later, Sagarika gave birth to Abhigyaan, the couple’s first child, who soon showed signs of autism. Thus, in 2010, Abhigyaan would be placed in a family kindergarten where he would receive special care, especially as Sagarika was pregnant again at the time, with their soon-to-be daughter Aishwarya.

The tragedy struck in 2011 when the Norwegian Child Protection Service, known as Barnevernet (literally ‘Child Protection’), took both Aishwarya and Abhigyaan away from their parents to keep them in a foster home until they were 18. Allegedly the couple had been there “under surveillance” for what Barnevernet called “improper parenting”.

Allegations against the couple included sleeping in the same bed as their children, hand-feeding (which Norwegian authorities saw as force-feeding) and also corporal punishment (Sagarika allegedly hit the children once). While these things may seem “normal” in the Indian context, for the Norwegian authorities it was anything but.

Notably, Norway has extremely strict laws regarding children and their upbringing, and these laws are universally enforced regardless of cultural differences.

Long custody battle that turned into a diplomatic row

What ensued was a more than year-long custody dispute over their children, during which Norwegian authorities claimed she was “mentally unfit” to raise children — Sagarika herself was in her late twenties at the time, which was not known or particularly organized on time, something the authorities used against them.

This story soon attracted the attention of both Norwegian and Indian media – with many highly critical of Barnevernet’s actions. Some went so far as to call it a “state-sponsored kidnapping.” The problem was that Barnevernet not only seemed culturally unaware of Indian parenting, but also seemed to personally attack the mother in order to bolster her own case.

Berit Aarset of Human Rights Alert Norway, who has repeatedly spoken out about the impunity with which Barnevernet acts, said of the case: “This is not the first time something like this has happened in Norway… the legal system favors child welfare services and you do them what they want all the time… in almost every case they say one of the parents has a mental health problem just to back up their arguments.”

With increased publicity came diplomatic pressure. Then Foreign Minister SM Krishna met his Norwegian counterpart in Oslo to seek a compromise on the matter and after protracted negotiations it was decided that custody of the children would be given to a paternal uncle in India, 27-year-old dentist Arunabhas Bhattacharya.

Another custody battle

The Norwegian Child Welfare Services delivered the two children to their uncle and grandfather in April 2012 in Kulti near Asansol, West Bengal. While this was a welcome development, the custody battle was not over. The grueling dispute with Norwegian authorities had taken its toll on Sagarika and Anurup’s marriage. Sagarika now faced a custody battle for the two children in India.

She turned to the Burdwan Child Welfare Committee for custody of her children. While this committee passed a verdict in Sagarika’s favour, the police did not enforce it and left the children with their uncle and grandfather. In December 2012, Sagarika appealed to the Kolkata Supreme Court.

In January 2013, Judge Dipankar Dutta ruled that Sagarika should be given custody of the two children, while her uncle and grandfather were granted visitation rights. “It should be painful for the uncle and grandfather, but they should accept it in the public interest. They had taken care of the children as needed,” Dutta said.

In 2022, Sagarika Chakraborty’s autobiography The Journey Of A Mother was published. The upcoming lead role of Rani Mukherjee is based on this book with Rani playing the character of Sagarika.


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