Director Amit Masurkar
Cast: Vidya Balan, Neeraj Kabi, Vijay Raaz, Brijendra Kaala, Sharat Saxena, Mukul Chadda, Ashwini Ladekar, Mukesh Prajapati
A divisional forest officer in her first field posting comes to grip with a feral reality where, in a man versus wild conflict, it is often the latter that ends up being the prey.
Directed by Amit Masurkar, in a labyrinth cutting through dense foliage in the jungles of Madhya Pradesh, the Vidya Balan starrer, ‘Sherni’ poses the question, “Who is a bigger predator? Man or tiger?
DFO Vidya Vincent (Vidya Balan) after slogging on a desk job was finally posted on a field assignment in Madhya Pradesh where villagers are terrified of a female tiger, identified as T 12 that continues to prey on livestock and humans.
Vidya needs to track the tiger before it gets killed by enraged villagers, or in the hands of a brusque and imperious hunter, Ranjan Rajhans, played by Sharat Saxena. However, it isn’t just the quest to capture the tiger but a fight she puts up against odds posed by regional politics.
‘Sherni’, for a change, is a film that focuses more on practical circumstances building around the beast that falls prey to human catharsis; each pursuing the wild cat with distinctive motives.
It presents a thick slice of life from the perspective of a forest officer or guard, for whom the jungle becomes their home and the animals’ their families as they are posted in remote locations surrounded by acres of forest land. Far from her family in Mumbai, DFO Vidya Vincent finds solace in a kitten; someone to return home to in the wilderness.
Vidya Balan quite aptly encapsulates the attitude of a female forest officer who maintains her composure even when torn between her duty to guard the forest and its animals and simultaneously keep off politicians and hunters that are baying for tiger blood to satiate their thirst for power and dominance.
The film has its share of dark humour when it shows a tiger has become an issue for election campaign; even the wildest of animals cannot escape the political animal-Mankind- who would use anything it could get a hold on to further its ambitions.
Dismissing the piffle that a tiger ought to be killed because it’s an “adamkhor” (man-eater), the film prudently argues against it, reasoning that no tiger is a man-eater; it’s just a tiger that is hungry. This quickly reminds us how forest space is shrinking due to construction and mining, forcing wild animals to stray into civilisation.
Poaching or hunting, it rightfully shows, is not one man act but includes the working of a cabal of powerful people where even the guardians of the forest are forced to succumb to pressure, at times.
It also emphasises the need to educate forest dwellers on peaceful cohabitation to maintain the ecological balance- a need of the hour amid the onslaught of rapid urbanisation. The message was successfully put across by a local school biology teacher, Hassan Noorani(Vijay Raaj). His simplicity and stature were well captured through his dishevelled look and attire.
The movie could have allotted a bit more screen time to the eccentric actor Neeraj Kabi who plays the role of an eminent wildlife conservationist. Despite a supporting role, Kabi manages to flesh out the character with its dark shades, which again is his specialty, best evidenced in the movie ‘The Hungry’- an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.
The remote location of the forest office too was conveyed perfectly as indoor shots reveal an office buried under dusty files covered in cobwebs. Most of the shots were outdoor, giving us a glimpse of the rich forests in Madhya Pradesh such as parts of Delawadi forests of Raisen district, Kanha National Park in Mandla district, and parts of the forests in Balaghat district.
Long shots of agriculture farms bordered by the jungle, and coupled with close shots on the thick bush, keeps one on their toes, fearing the beast might jump out of it any moment. A riveting film on Amazon Prime that plays at a sobre pace, ‘Sherni’ subtly hits a nerve.