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Sherni, at its core, isn’t just about the sexism faced by women in any government job or about conservation of the forests. It’s about so much more.
I must’ve probably been eight or nine when I remember my dad taking out his bike, packing a backpack full of a week’s ration and going to the jungle. And a week later, when he came back, he was tanned, he was tired, but he smelled like the forest, and he was full of stories!
He’d sighted a tiger from afar, he’d marked its pugmarks and walked around the jungles like he owned it.
Little eight (or nine) year-old Madhur was awestruck and fascinated. And after that, I kept begging and pleading with my dad and uncle to take me with them to the forests for the census. (I finally got to do it when I turned 18 but that’s a story for later.)
The point of that little anecdote was to tell you that when I first saw the trailer of Vidya Balan’s new film Sherni, I was intrigued by it. For one, it was shot in forests that I’ve been to, one time too many. Secondly, it focused on a tiger, which is undoubtedly the most majestic animal ever! And thirdly, because a combination of Vidya Balan, Vijay Raaz and forests can never go wrong!
*Few Spoilers Alert
Before I begin telling you anything, I just wanted to give a disclaimer – I am going to try and not give out any spoilers but if there are any in here, I am really sorry about them.
Moving on to the movie. Sherni (Tigress) is the story of Vidya Vincent, a Division/District Forest Officer (DFO) who’s just received her new posting at a field job in the forests of Belaghat, Madhya Pradesh (MP).
She is young, she is fierce and she loves the forests. From the beginning, we are rooting for her. Vidya’s juniors respect her but her superiors fit every single stereotype of the men in government jobs. They are corrupt, they are too easily swayed, and they are in power. That sounds suspiciously similar to way too many men I’ve seen in real life.
Moving on. In the very first scene we see forest officials testing out the new monitoring cameras they’ve placed in an area where a tiger has begun frequenting. (More on this later) And then we see Vidya emerging from the forest asking her juniors why a man-made water-hole has gone dry. Their answer, honestly, isn’t surprising. Apparently, the contractor in-charge of ensuring that the water-hole is filled is related to the MLA of the jurisdiction. Obviously, work isn’t really his first priority.
Just as Vidya is about to ask the officers to call him, one of them spots a bear in a thicket near-by. They all yell, scream and the bear goes away. Quite an easy and effective way to get rid of bears, unless it’s a mama bear with her cubs, then you’ve got to be careful.
Once they’ve gotten rid of the bear, off they go to the office where the contractor meets them the very next day. As Vidya tries to have a word with him, he offers her sweets in a very typical, mansplain-y way. (Metaphor to help corrupt her mind or not, you decide). She refuses and promptly hands him a show cause notice for not taking care of the water-hole and he name-drops his brother-in-law’s name. I’d love to say he takes the notice and goes, but that, obviously, doesn’t happen.
That is when we meet Mr. Bansal, Vidya’s superior and one of the men I mentioned earlier. Played by the brilliant Brijendra Kala, you pendulum between feeling infuriated and some kind of pity towards him.
As Vidya completes a month at this new posting, the department gets notified of a bull being attacked by a tiger in one of the near-by villages. At a meeting held by the department, Vidya suggests they do a DNA test on the tiger’s victim to figure out which tiger it was. And that is when we meet Hassan Noorani (Vijay Raaz). He offers his services to test the DNA since he is the only one there who has done a course on DNA testing a few years prior. And so he does that!
Soon enough, the tiger kills again, this time, a man from the village. It doesn’t appear to have eaten the man but mauled him to death. The villagers are now beyond annoyed and initially refuse to let Vidya and her team near the body. Leader of the opposition is present and in the first five minutes of his appearance, he says far too many sexist things. But grudgingly he lets them check the man’s body and test it for DNA.
And from this point on, the movie really picks up a pace. We see the numerous issues that a straight-forward, non-corrupt female forest officer faces as she tries to save a tigress and her cubs.
We see Sharat Saxena, doing what he does best – be a villain. In this case, he is a hunter who can ‘look into the eyes of the tiger and tell you if it’s a man-eater or not.’ I wonder how he got that skill. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a skill like that?
Sherni, at its core, isn’t just about the sexism faced by women in any government job or about conservation of the forests, though these are issues it deals with. I believe, Sherni, at its deepest core, is a movie that shows you how in a war of the politics, it is the by-standers and do-gooders who suffer the most. The movie makes you question a number of things about how easy it is to get away with anything, if you simply have the right connections.
As for the characters and the plot, it was a brilliant movie. Like I said, Vidya Balan and Vijay Raaz are a treat to watch. Whether it is walking around the jungles in her super practical clothes (made me happy that they didn’t put her in the ridiculous skimpy clothes) or it is speaking her mind, Vidya Balan truly does justice to the role.
Vijay Raaz, as a passionate wildlife lover, resonated with me more than I’d imagined. He is impassioned and willing to go great lengths to save the tiger and her cubs.
Some of the more famed supporting actors include Ila Arun as Vidya’s mother-in-law who is either asking Vidya and her husband Pawan (Mukul Chadda) to have kids or she’d be telling her to dress up a bit more.
Which brings me to a really important point – Pawan, the incredibly supportive husband. Whether it is to calm her down after she’s had enough of the MLAs and the politics, or him being by her side when the MIL asks her about kids, he is the supportive husband we need to see in 2021! (How and why has this bare minimum become so important?!) Honestly, though, there are moments when she doesn’t agree with his ideas and tells him they’ll talk later, but it is quite possibly a very real portrayal of relationships. (12/10 for that!).
Overall, the movie is a one-time watch. However, be warned, it does have scenes where they show dead bodies and that can be a little disturbing to watch. Other than that, props to the director for making a movie that I genuinely enjoyed watching in quite a while.
So go ahead, watch the movie and please marvel at the beauty and majesticity (not a word, I know!) that the tiger exudes in the movie.
Ps. It looks even better in real life. I know ‘coz I’ve seen it from a very close distance and was in awe of it for days. Would you like a story on that?
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