Everyone who has been reading my reviews, it is not a secret that I am a big fan of Amazon Prime when it comes to curation of Indian content. Be it an action-oriented web series (Mirzapur) or a dramatic tale based in rural parts of India (Panchayat), Amazon Prime has continuously delivered high quality Indian content. Adding yet another neatly crafted film to its masterfully curated content list, ‘Sherni‘ released on June 18th, 2021.
Directed by Amit Masurkar, Sherni follows the journey of Vidya Vincent (Vidya Balan) as the new divisional forest officer (DFO) in Bishaspur forest, India. She has been assigned an arduous task in an unfavorable condition. Vidya has to develop an action plan to contain a tigress who has gone on a rampage of killing villagers and their cattle. While her team is dedicated to doing what is best for the wildlife ecosystem, the government bureaucracy coupled with the lazy nature of her boss Bansal (Brijendra Kala) and the politicians in the area foil the effort of Vidya’s team. As the movie goes on, we see a beautiful parallel between a wild animal and us (social animal).
After watching this film, I felt like Sherni‘s makers were actually reading my AVS reviews. I have mentioned earlier how Indian actors need to let go of loud commercial acting and find cerebral ways of expressing emotions with minimalism, and Vidya Balan has done just that. Balan has stamped her authority in the entire film with her impactful performance. She has used her subtle expression, restricted mannerism, and controlled body language to convey working women’s lives in the middle of the patriarchal society to perfection. One such example is when Vidya Balan is faced with sexist remarks such as ‘lady officer’ or being offered soft drinks (instead of alcohol). She doesnt not go berserk as a radical feminist, revolting against the system. Instead, she uses her intelligence to defuse the situation knowing very well that not all battles are worth fighting. However, when it matters, we see Balan putting her foot down to ensure everyone acknowledges her position and her preferences.
I have also mentioned earlier how an actor’s ability is often vetoed due to convenient scriptwriting. This does not seem to be the case with Sherni. Masurkar‘s screenplay does not spoon-feed the audience the helplessness of the situation. In fact, the script intelligently induces certain conditions. Then it is left on the actors’ ability to convey their viewpoint. This is seen when Kala is seen wasting a team meeting by discussing how to pronounce the author’s name correctly. The film also has a great set of supporting actors such as Vijay Raaz, Neeraj Kabi, Sharat Saxena – all of whom have played their part beautifully.
Coming to the technicians, kudos to Rakesh Haridas for such immaculate cinematography. Haridas‘ choice of lighting and still framing transports the audience to the deep forest of Bishaspur and creates intrigue that plays out brilliantly. I also think Romil Modi and Tejas Thakker deserve credit for meticulously casting the extras that add to the film’s authenticity. Lastly, I also want to shout out loud to a dear friend and an acclaimed Indian director Pratik Kothari who played a cameo as the news anchor.
After watching Sherni, I am convinced that Masurkar hasn’t got the credit he deserves. Taking a page from his previous film, Masurkar has woven yet another beautiful story that emphasizes the importance of wildlife conversation. The film opens with a blurry shot. We identify a four-legged creature staring intensely at the camera only to later realize that the 4-legged is a man who is following a routine for a camera set-up. It is this opening shot in the film that outlines the subtext of the film. The film forces us to ask the question – who is the real wild creature here? Is it the animal who is out for its natural course of hunting to find food or the humans who have encroached on the animal’s territory leaving little to no option for the animal to fend for themselves? The film also connects the struggle of a wild animal (tigress) in a man-made world to the struggle of a working woman (Vidya Balan) in the patriarchal world.
Although I loved each aspect of this film, two things left me puzzled. First, Sherni‘s opening credit states that this film is a work of fiction. Yet, the film has an uncanny similarity to the controversial killing of the tigress Avni in 2018 in Maharashtra, so much so that the film’s end scene with the two cubs also has relevance to Avni’s case. The second thing being, the film’s title. The entire film revolves around the tigress; however, the title Sherni stands for a lioness. I didn’t quite get it.
Nevertheless, I am glad for Amit Masurkar, T-Series, Abundantia Entertainment, and Amazon Prime for such a refreshing film with a much-overlooked topic in today’s conversation. The film, its cast, and its technicians make Sherni a must-watch.
Reviewed by Puneet Ruparel