Sherni Movie Review: Vidya Balan roars in this man-animal jungle


Movie – Sherni

Cast – Vidya Balan, Vijay Raaz, Neeraj Kabi, Sahart Saxena, Brijendera Kala

Director – Amit V. Masurkar

Sherni opens to a panoramic view of the forest. You know you have landed in the middle of dense, raw danger. So does Vidya Balan, who plays Divisional Forest Officer Vidya Vincent, in the film. Vidya is here to resolve human-animal conflicts – stuff we read about in the newspapers every day. But her battles go beyond just that. She has to find her own footing as a woman in a man’s world. Just like the central force of the film – tigers – Vidya also lies low, not from fear, but for aim. She subtly finds her way through the jungle, just as Sherni attempts to journey Hindi cinema to a terrain that has been probed, but not explored.

In Amit Masurkar’s Sherni, we are introduced to India’s wild spaces, which face seemingly unstoppable threats from poaching, deforestation, and overgrazing. That’s one side of the story. On the other, there are communities that rely on forest returns for their livelihoods. Meanwhile, cattle and men venturing into the jungle are turning up dead. Yes, a wild cat is on the loose. Caught in the middle of this are forestry officials and our protagonist Vidya Vincent.

Sherni is reminiscent of Avni or T1’s case. The tigress was accused of killing 13 people. After a months-long hunt, she was shot dead in 2018 in Yavatmal, Maharashtra, by a civilian hunter-led search accompanied by some forest department officials. Many activists described it as ‘cold-blooded murder’ and the case even reached the Supreme Court of India. The case is still going on with officials trying to find whether Avni was a man-eater or not.

Coming back to Sherni, Vidya soon realizes that humans and tigers are both endangered. This fact hits her when lives are lost in the jungle and a politician grabs the opportunity to make big promises about showing the tiger its rightful place – sending it to a zoo or a circus, that is. Even the forest department remains complacent and corrupt. Things are not that different in reel or real life.

The supporting actors (Vijay Raaz, Neeraj Kabi, Sharat Saxena, Brijendra Kala, Mukul Chadda) bring to the proceedings a high level of authenticity. They are aided in part by a tertiary cast made up of faces that merge completely with the environs. With all the actors, known or unknown, professional or amateur, looking at the parts they play, Sherni does not have to resort to cliched flummery to draw the audience into its beleaguered universe.

The Amazon Original movie is lit and lensed admirably well by cinematographer Rakesh Haridas. He achieves visual fluidity and depth both in the interior scenes and the wide-angle exterior shots, many of which are staged in the still of the night bathed in darkness.

You know exactly what Sherni is trying to convey (tangentially but tellingly) when a minister peremptorily tells Vidya Vincent that no “proof” that she gathers will override the “faith” of the people. The truth, he suggests, is immaterial, thereby admitting that we live in an era in which belief trumps evidence and manipulation of facts gets the better of diligent pursuit of probity. Sherni isn’t just a tigress-on-the-loose adventure. It is a film of our times for the ages, a worthy follow-up to Newton.

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