Platform: Amazon Prime Videos

Release Date: 18/6/21

Cast: Vidya Balan, Sharat Saxena, Vijay Raaz, Brijendra Kala, Neeraj Kabi

Director: Amit Masurka

Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)

Vidya Vincent (Vidya Balan) assumes charge as Divisional Forest Officer of a secluded and agriculture-dependent area somewhere in India. She has been manning a desk for six years since she made it out of the forest academy, and this is her first field posting. Tensions are high and Vidya being a woman, the scanners are on her more than anything else. She is still on the verge of settling in with the new way of work. It is at this juncture that the area is seemingly brought under threat by a marauding tigress. The tigress claims multiple victims and while the forest department is hellbent on capturing it alive, elements crop up in the area that not only threatens the safety of the tigress and meddle in the discharging of duty of Vidya and her team but also raise concerning red flags about a plethora of issues plaguing the area.

Sherni purrs along similarly to Amit Masurka’s previous film, Newton. The look feel and pacing of the film are almost identical to Newton. While this film deals with an issue that isn’t even half as important or shocking as the subject matter of Newton, Masurka is able to incite interest and a feeling of importance for the subject that it deals with. This is something that he achieves by giving us first-person perspectives on the issues that plague the lives of the people living in the area. He also justifies the attacks of the tigress by pointing to the topography of the place and how a human-animal conflict in such a place is a foregone conclusion.

Masurka did extremely well to not take sides in a film like Newton, where he subtly put forth the issues faced by both sides of the Naxalite conflict. In Sherni, the political overtones are a lot clearer. There is a sitting MLA who is trying his best to get the tigress killed and ensure that the people are happy with him and vote him back to power. There is also the leader who wants to become the new MLA and grabs the opportunity of the tiger attacks and uses it to expose the gaping holes in the efficiency of the sitting MLA. The fact however is that both the parties do their things in a “not so subtle” way that leads to some interesting altercations with the protagonist and intriguing drama.

The film is laced with a plethora characters and each of these characters have their own agendas. The good thing about these characters is that their agendas are aligned with the plot of the film and are critical to the storytelling. There isn’t a single character in the film that is expendable, and this makes the story, the screenplay, and the drama a lot more impactful.

Neeraj Kabi plays Vidya’s superior officer and teacher from the academy. Vidya looks up to him and believes that he is exemplary in his conduct. In their very first meeting, we can also sense some sexual tension emanating out of Vidya’s question about his wife and his informing her that they were not together anymore. He follows it up with a question about Vidya’s husband that she replies with an awkward formality. The audiences are set up for what they expect would turn out to be a feisty association but as the film progresses, the association of Kabi and Balan takes a totally unexpected turn. This is something that I love in a film. I love my expectations to be brutally subverted. This makes me revel in the genius of the filmmaker and that is something that enhances the appeal and likeability of the film for me.

A similar thing happens with the character of Pintu Bhaiya (Sharat Saxena), a hunter who is hellbent on killing the tigress to add to his headcounts. Pintu Bhaiya is muscled off the case by Vidya after he meddles in the modus oparandi of the forest department. We believe that Vidya is rid of his presence for good but then he makes a comeback towards the end of the film. Little did I expect that he would become such a force to reckon with and end up being not only the most detestable character in the entire film but also one that has a lot of clout over the local people. These bits contribute immensely in enhancing the intrigue and drama of the film and ensures that there isn’t a single dull moment in the film.

Vidya Balan has always been a bankable actress and she is no different here. She effortlessly slips behind the character of Vidya Vincent and captures our imagination. Her character experiences an arch and even though she is overwhelmed by the opposing forces, she doesn’t lose completely by the end of the film. In the last scene of the film, we see her walk through a building housing many stuffed animals. It resembles an animal museum or zoo and as she walks through the animals on display, she recommends rectifications to her. This little scene tells us that she hasn’t lost her indomitable spirit. She might have been defeated but she is not vanquished. She is only waiting for the right moment to spring back to life. Balan turns these little scenes into delightful pieces of cinema and she does so with her unique cinematic sensibility and thorough understanding of the character that she is playing.

This review would be incomplete if I didn’t mention Brijendra Kala, who plays Vidya’s superior. There is a scene where we see him attacked by the opposition political leader at his office. The way Kala enacts this scene made me roll on the floor laughing. This is easily one of the quirkiest bits in the film and for rendering this scene alone, Kala deserves a mention. Sherni might not be as important and shocking as Newton but it has enough going in its favor to both entertain and enlightens the audiences. The film constantly moves ahead, and it has an aggressive protagonist that pushes and powers the story ahead forward. This results in the proceedings feeling breezy and crisp. The setting and the social issues that are dealt with here are also rendered important and intriguing by the way they are set up. The film doesn’t show a single tiger attack nor is there any orchestrated violence that one expects in a film of this nature. Still, Masurka can grasp the attention of the audiences and intrigue them with his efficient storytelling, wonderful performances, and engrossing drama.

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