Mrs Chakraborty says ‘thank you’ to Mrs Chatterjee.
The gratitude comes from Bollywood superstar Rani Mukherjee’s “deep empathy” for the real-life mother who took on a nation to hold on to her children. The gratitude also stems from the “exact depiction” of emotions and angst that the real-life character experienced during some of her toughest times in life which the actor “could emote with perfection” on the silver screen.
But Sagarika Chakraborty, the mother who fought the Norwegian government and her in-laws back home in India to win custody of her two children, feels that the story of Debika Chatterjee, the character based on Sagarika’s life played by Rani Mukherjee in Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway, is only half told.
That’s because, Sagarika tells The Telegraph Online, her struggle to support her old and ailing parents and her children after winning the custody battle over the last decade has been equally challenging, if not, at times, more. The biggest irony of it all, she says, is having to stay hundreds of kilometres away from her children to earn a living and going through the separation pain all over again.
Sagarika, a software engineer with a private firm, is currently based out of Noida in Uttar Pradesh for the past two years at a distance of over 1500 kilometres from her Dum Dum residence in Calcutta where her children are being brought up by her parents. Eyeing a better career opportunity, she is likely to move to Pune in less than a month which would add another 400-odd kilometres between her and her children.
“It is difficult to sustain a family which comprises two children, one of who carries severe mental trauma from his experiences in Norway, and aged parents, one of who has a heart condition, unless you earn enough. I don’t get any financial support from my husband and I alone have to pay for my children’s education and the medical bills for my son and my parents which are substantial. I was forced to leave Calcutta since all good career opportunities which came my way were far from home,” she said.
“I am taking a little time to stabilize my financial position. The way things look at present, I may not be able to return to Calcutta ever. That’s why I am planning to bring over my kids and parents to Delhi where I plan to settle down eventually,” Sagarika added.
The film, of course, deals with the 2011-2013 tumultuous time frame of Sakarika aka Debika’s life when her children, a three-year-old son, and a five-month-old daughter, were taken away by Norwegian Child Protection authorities and put in foster homes on grounds of parental abuse the alleged mental instability of the mother. Sagarika had moved to Norway to join her husband who was employed in that North European country but returned to India in April 2012 after Norwegian authorities handed over the children to their uncle under strict conditions after a long and agonizing legal battle by the family and a full-blown diplomatic hustle between India and Norway. Till 2013, when Sagarika gained legal custody of her children, the kids were put up with her in-laws in Kulti near Asansol. The couple has since been estranged.
It wasn’t just the autobiographical sketch, The Journey of a Mother: Diplomatic War Between India and Norway, which Sagarika wrote and sold filmmaking rights that formed the basis of the script for Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway, in the last decade or so after returning to India and winning the custody battle of her children. She added to her academic qualifications as well. A science graduate holding a Masters degree in Business Administration who gave up her job before moving to Norway, Sagarika resumed her studies all over again and finished another Masters Degree course in Software Engineering and Computer Applications. She, admittedly, also secured a degree in Database Administration and finished multiple diploma courses on software. All that to get herself ready for the job market in India and establish herself as the prime earning member of her family.
“The story of the movie ends with me winning my children’s custody. People leave theatre halls thinking my triumph makes me live a comfortable life after that. Far from it. My struggle over the last decade has been at times tougher than the times I spent in Norway. Amid all that I achieved, I took care of my ailing parents and my children, especially my son who has a mental condition and would have to remain on meds all his life. But I was determined to win that battle and this is where I have now reached,” Sagarika sounded proud.
“I think I have been a good mother to my children even though I have stayed away from them for the last two years,” she said.
Sagarika feels her journey from being a housewife in Norway to becoming a corporate executive in India is the subject matter of another book, a sequel to her first title and one she is now planning to write.
“That would be the complete story of Debika Chatterjee, her transformation from a saree-clad woman to an executive in business attire, who did all this for her children. I never really wore sarees like Debika does in the movie. But I don’t mind. That household image brings out the motherhood in her better. Maybe someone would make this phase of my life into another movie and the saree to corporate suit image would look much better in that flick,” she giggled.