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Sherni: Vidya Balan nails the role of a forest officer in a close-to-reality man-animal conflict tale

Film Review                                                           Sherni
The nature and extent of human-wildlife conflict is not understandable to all. The term is used casually, but very few understand its deeper meaning and underlying causes. The wide, wild arena full of conflicts, malice, politics, greed and ill deeds – that a forest officer Vidya Vincent, DFO, posted in a division in Madhya Pradesh, deals with – is what Sherni explores. The sundry challenges a forest officer confronts, to relocate a tigress, un-lids many worms from the can. Amit V. Masurkar, director of the hit film Newton, handles the topic with sincerity, as can be expected from a person who knows the administrative functioning and its nuances. Amit lays the environment topic on the line, enlightening the audience with core issues like dangers faced by a forest officer, the vulnerable work area, amidst societal-political pressures and animals facing the brunt of inhuman approaches.
Sherni is shot in the picturesque forests of Madhya Pradesh, with Vidya being weirdly daring. She’s posted in a troublesome forest division, soon realizing a stronger man-to-man rift, fueled by ugly politics that may mar the existence of T12 tigress. Vidya’s solemn work ethic to save the majestic animal and locate her to a national park is a gruesome journey that receives resistance from local politicians, mafias, hunters, with parallelly running villagers’ genuine problems.
Sherni has an intriguing plot. As we peep into the personal and professional life of Vidya, we find she lives in a lonely world. There is a scarcity of joy and enthusiasm in her life. Her chat with her husband is an indicator where she expresses the stagnancy at work propelling her to resign. He asks her to stick to the job as he, too, is uncertain about his. In another incident, at a function at a forest rest house, the male officers chat and laugh while she watches them from a distance; her asking for whiskey springs strange reactions from the serving staff; the subtle pressures from her mother and mother-in-law to have a kid worsen the deal. Then an odd comment from a former MLA on sending a ‘lady’ forest officer to a tough district reflects typical male mentality – the unacceptability of women in powerful positions and the embedded doubt in their capability to handle so-called exclusively ‘male jobs’!
On the one hand, she is surrounded by duplicitous persons like a spineless senior, a resort owner cum self-proclaimed conservationist who is also a boastful hunter supported by politicians, both former and present MLAs seeking vote-bank clubbed with sentiments of villagers, and on the other hand, she decides to stay and deal with the matter with the support of a zoologist, Vijay Raaz. Both work passionately to help tigress T12. The tigress is quite clever, dodging their plans each time. It silently kills the loner villagers who have no option but to go inside the forest to collect wood and for cattle grazing. The killings are made political agendas, and all try to use them for selfish causes.
Sherni is realistic yet slow. It displays profound authenticity in exploring a serious environmental topic – a simple film that addresses lofty issues. Vidya is a no-nonsense forest officer, a role that doesn’t require flexing muscles or unbelievable action. It is a part that any dutybound officer would play to work within the ambit of the law. She derives strength from forest-related laws to nail the wrongdoers while keeping her purely humane instincts alive. She is the only support to the mislaid tigress who is forcefully made to leave her natural habitat to intervene in village fields due to brutal deforestation, dried-up water holes, mining and irresponsible development works. Vidya feels entrapped in the murky circumstances and dyed-in-the-wool male patriarchy as others play nefarious games to kill the tiger.
Sherni has shades of clever cinematography by Rakesh Haridas, gripping screenplay by Aastha Tiku and engaging dialogues written by him and Yashasvi Mishra, with natural sets and true-in-their-elements artists. The compelling ‘Go-Pro’ type camera moves arouse interest as if the camera is fitted on the tigress’s forehead, silently watching all the grey development from a distance. The beauty of Sherni is that it subtly conveys what it wants to.
Vidya Balan adorns simplicity to give a remarkable performance. Corrupt officials who are in the pockets of politicians make things difficult for her. She speaks less and performs her duty diligently. Her quiet demeanour exudes loads of determination. Her dialogues are blunt but to the point. She brilliantly exhibits all joy, anger, sympathy through her eyes. A highly talented star cast supports Vidya. They neither overplay nor underwhelm, yet all remain underutilized. Sharat Saxena, Vijay Raaz, Neeraz Kabi, Brijendra Kala all add to the show but could have done more.
Amit weaves an interesting plot, furnishing a realistic lens. The intensity of problems is mainly captured pictographically with minimal dialogues. It is made to be felt visually. The camera cleverly captures the beauty and expanse of forests, the poverty of villagers, the helplessness of the bait goat, the triumph of the tiger, the playfulness of cubs, transporting us to the wild and rural. It is gripping but goes weak at specific joints. The tiger trail keeps us hooked. This monkey business has many twists and turns, as the song in the film depicts. Who hunts who is to be seen.
Can be seen on Amazon Prime.