Sherni review: Highly recommended!
The movie has some parallels to the 2018 Avni case
By: Sonia Chopra
Critic's Rating: 3.5/5
Monday 21 June 2021
Sherni review: Highly recommended!
For those who followed the Avni case in 2018, this film will hit hard. (Spoiler alert- When a hunter killed tigress Avni unlawfully, reportedly under orders from Forest Ministry headed by S Mungantiwar, several irregularities and clear violations were exposed. The question on everyone’s minds—why couldn’t the tigress be rehabilitated instead of being killed?) Having participated in the protests to save the murdered tigress Avni’s cubs, I am exhilarated that this film got made. It’s a monumentally important story that needs to be seen, discussed and recommended.
The movie has some parallels to the Avni case, though there is no official declaration of any inspiration from real-life events.
New Divisional Forest Officer Vidya Vincent (Vidya Balan) finds herself in the thick of things from the word go. A tigress called T12 has created concern among villagers after preying on livestock. With the old grazing ground used up for teak plantation, villagers have no choice but to get livestock towards the jungle. Exactly whose territory is that… the film wants us to question.
Meanwhile, we are informed of dry watering holes due to negligence, a faulty plan that has interlocked fields and the jungle, and erratically structured copper mines in the middle of the forest.
Local politicians fan the flames, encouraging panic among villagers. They even pass off a man mauled by a bear, as one of the tigress’s latest victims. The propaganda news pieces are so ludicrous they’d be funny if they weren’t so reflective of the sad reality.
Meanwhile, a hunter offers to “help” the forest officials, and Vidya is quick to cut him to size. He wants to kill and add T12 to his conquests, while Vidya wants to rehabilitate the tigress. This is the part when the film is in its element. When both parties (Vidya’s team and the hunter with his cronies) are in the jungle looking for T12, it’s a heart-stopping moment.
Director Amit Masurkar with writer Aastha Tiku bring about some soft, humorous moments as well, and keep the dialogue consistently crisp. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, a forest department staff shares the picture of T12 as a baby with her mother Neelam, cooing about how sweet she is (“kitni sweet hai na”). At another time, the character of department head Bansal (Brijendra Kala) is suitably expressed when he erroneously introduces an expert of moths as a butterfly expert. The film further has fun with this character, framing his face against deer antlers.
Like many female lead roles, especially those in trying conditions, Vidya Vincent as written as a straightforward, dedicated worker—almost dour. The character walks a tight-rope between doing her job and blindly following orders, while tackling minefields of sexism and corruption. The character is offered only a sparse irreverent moment or two where she mischievously hides something her senior was looking for, or when she makes a case for leading a childless life to her mother.
Balan carries the film with aplomb, but one wishes the character was more well-rounded/humanized and offered more imaginative styling. Vidya’s equation with her husband also needed more clarity. The scene where she is visibly uncomfortable around her husband is significant, but abruptly ends with a comedic moment. The supporting cast does a stellar job!
The film’s essence is captured in the almost-macabre ending scene. Intriguing and entertaining despite a measured pace, Sherni is highly recommended. Great for a family viewing as well. Lively discussions guaranteed!
(Sherni is streaming on Amazon Prime Video)
Sonia Chopra is a critic, columnist and screenwriter with over 15 years of experience. She tweets on @soniachopra2
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