Rating: 3.5 stars
Director: Amit Masurkar
Cast: Vidya Balan, Vijay Raaz, Brijendra Kala, Sharad Saxena
Platform: Amazon Prime Video
Newton director Amit Masurkar’s latest release Sherni, stars Vidya Balan as an upright Forest Officer who strives for balance in a world of man-animal conflict while she also seeks her true calling in a hostile environment. Vidya plays the role of Vidya Vincent who navigates the bureaucratic toxicity and misogynistic remarks every day during her deputation.
The men in the film openly pass sexist remarks at Vidya, undermine her, snatch the mic from her when she’s about to speak, test her temper and shake her confidence while she tries to make some difficult and spontaneous decisions to save the tigers. When Vidya figures out mistakes, a man offers her orange barfi (sweets), when she presses further, he offers to bring pastries next time. While Vidya initially wants to give up and resign, her husband places the excuse of the perks that a government job provides, while loosely slipping his own job insecurity into the picture.
Sherni is also about the imbalance of life and climate change activities that impact both animals and humans. Vidya tries to understand the plight of the local villagers, figures out another source of income for men and women who cannot take their cattle to the forest while their lands are locked down due to the fear of attacks by tigers.
The men in the movie are some of the stalwarts of acting in the Hindi film industry. They match up to the understated energy of Vidya Balan who establishes that she’s not bigger than the movie, which most actors never dare to do.
Neeraj Kabi (the astonishingly corrupt idol), Brijendra Kala (the boss), Vijay Raaz ( Vidya’s only companion and Zoology teacher who helps in taking DNA samples from animals), Sharad Saxena (the annoyingly misogynistic, narcissistic and corrupt officer), all help in weaving the loose ends of the movie together, to make it a must-watch for students, and unaware citizens, as to what actually happens in such reserves in the country.
Sherni satirically exposes the unsolicited intervention of politicians in matters of national importance only at their own convenience around elections. Director Amit Masurkar and writer Aastha Tiku do an excellent job at knitting imperative issues (corruption, bureaucratic issues, destruction of public property, illiteracy and terror) in this screenplay with finesse.
Vidya’s mother-in-law (Ila Arun) sees that she’s not wearing any jewellery and traditional Indian make-up accessories while going out to dinner, Vidya pauses, goes inside her room and puts on all the jewellery she can. Her husband (Mukul Chadda) who is dressed up like a teenage boy with socks and sandals along with half pants, has the audacity to say, “Wow so beautiful ya!”
At some point in the film, she chooses whiskey over mocktails and finally, one day, in an extremely cathartic scene, she sits on a cliff and tears roll down her face. She’s exhausted and heavily disgusted with the corruption and sexism around her. She does end up making a huge contribution towards the end in the forest. She inevitably reminds us of Kate Winslet from Mare of Easttown, which makes one ponder that the actor has completed over 16 years in the industry. There’s nothing left to prove.
Spoiler alert: The particular tigress who is the subject of the movie is finally shot dead by a corrupt Sharad Saxena. Soon after shooting her, he also makes sure she is hit by a tranquillizer dart so that people don’t realise that she was illegally shot. Symbolically, the same happens to women in our society, and to Vidya in this film.