Rani Mukerji talks on living the role of Mrs. Chatterjee

Rani Mukerji meets the real Sagarika Chatterjee at the media meet of Mrs. Chatterjee Vs Norway. Photo: Rajiv Vijayakar 

She is now Mrs. Aditya Chopra, and mother to their daughter Adira, now over 7 years old. Rani Mukerji, whose debut film in 1996, Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat, saw her whip up an avatar of the fierce Goddess Durga against a greedy and evil husband and in-laws, now enacts another fiery role based on a real case that made headlines in 2012.  The film is Mrs. Chatterjee Vs Norway.

She plays Sagarika Chatterjee, the hausfrau who battled an entire nation and also an errant husband when her two kids were forcibly taken away from her for reasons that were essentially cultural differences between India and Norway. This was due to the social requisites of the Norwegian government, but there were other vested interests as well.

The review of this film is already posted online, but a meeting with the star gave some good insights into how Rani went deep into the character. At the end of the day, Rani’s performance is humongous and towering, in a film that needs to be watched for its subject.

Rani revealed that co-producer Nikkhil Advani (who she terms as “A brave producer of films and series that make statements”) approached her for the role, giving her every leeway she could have asked for, as her daughter remained her priority then (way back in 2021). The schedules were worked as per her convenience and Adira was with her, attending school online even when shooting abroad. “In short, he gave me no reason to turn down the film!” smiled Rani. “And signing this movie also removed the wrong assumption that I am now going to do only films produced by my husband, like Mardaani, Mardaani 2, Hichki and Bunty Aur Babli 2. After all, if Adi can work with other actresses, I too can work with other banners, can’t I?”

Rani’s last film outside was the anthology, Bombay Talkies,in 2013.

Estonia was the country chosen for the shoot of this film, though Rani and Nikkhil were amused when the Norwegian High Commission asked them why they did not shoot in Norway itself! That the film, in a way, was anti-Norway (the then-Union Minister Sushma Swaraj had to intervene in the real-life case and the incident led to a India-Norway faceoff) was not important, they said, as the country had freedom of expression!!

Rani heard the one-line narration by Nikkhil and was shocked enough to think that such things cannot possibly happen! How can anyone object to children being fed by the parents with their hands, or sleeping in-between them on the same bed, or even being anointed with a kaala teeka (black spot) to ward off evil effects? All these were very much a part of Indian culture, and Rani was disturbed that anyone could even think of forcibly and deceptively taking children away from their parents for such reasons! “Even an animal attacks if someone tries to harm her cubs!” she said.

When she read the script, she was also told that she was the first choice to do this role. Rani then decided not to meet the real Sagarika as her interpretation of the character had to be “cinematic” and her own. She had “a million meetings and readings” with director Ashima Chibber (herself a single mother) about Sagarika and her emotions, but could never imagine this happening to Adira and her. So she decided to model Mrs. Chatterjee on her own mother, Krishna Mukerji.

“My mother married dad (the late filmmaker Ram Mukerji) 50 years back in Kolkata,” says the actress. “They then shifted to Mumbai, but even after five decades, she has remained a thoroughbred Bengali, who even speaks Hindi and English with a Bengali inflection. She eats and lives like a Bengali from Kolkata and has done everything like Sagarika is shown doing for her kids. I therefore could imagine what would happen to her if Raja, my brother, and I were taken away from her like this! She too would have gone nuts!”

For once, says Rani, she has not been able to switch off from the role even after the film was over with, as every revisit of the promo or talk about the movie stirs her all over again. “It is a huge responsibility to feel that pain and loss and bring it out on screen. I think of all the parents separated from children for whatever reason. This film has a bigger purpose beyond the box-office. We need to create awareness among the people with the right power, as these things are still happening to people of other nationalities as well.”

The actress was thrilled to meet the real Sagarika for the first time ever after the media meet at Yash Raj Studios. Sagarika wept while watching the film and hugged the actress tightly, stating that she was perfect for the role. She added, “I have always been a fan of Rani, and I am happy that she was chosen to play this role!”







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