Sherni (2021) Movie Review: Man vs. Wild

Right in the middle of the movie, Nangia, played by Neeraj Kabi, delivers a lecture in a seminar on how development and environment does not go hand in hand. Hence, we should strive for a balance, where both can coexist, exclaims Nangia.

This coexistence of tigress T-12 with people who live around the forest area, forms the crux of the movie. While the new DFO [Divisional Forest Officer] Vidya Vincent, zoologist Hassan Noorani, few other junior forest officers and handful of villagers are trying to find a solution whereby T-12 can be guided out of the village area into the green belt wildlife sanctuary.

A villager loses his life as pugmark of a tiger is found at the scene. After much investigation, its concluded that T-12 was the attacker and she has to be stopped before she can claim more victims. The villagers are scared, and politicians like GK & PK, make the most of this fear. While GK rallies around the villagers since he wants to return to power, PK gets an ace hunter Pintu Singh to try and kill the tigress and retain his legislative power. The movie instantly reminds us of Jim Corbett and his work on maneaters of Kumaon.  

This powerplay between the warring politicians only reveals that they don’t feel for either the villagers or the tigress. T-12 means different things to different people; its just another hunting game for Pintu Singh, it’s a matter of job retention and transfer for Bansal, who is Vidya’s boss, and for Nangia, its an assignment where he has to put the issue to rest.

The helplessness of T-12 takes us back to the Avni episode in Maharashtra, which probably was the inspiration for this movie. Safe passage for T-12, becomes a mission for Vidya. She doesn’t wish to see a conflict, and definitely not a hunt down of the tigress. But will she succeed? That forms the most thrilling part of the movie.

Noorani, played by Vijay Raaz, is very diligent. He wishes to introduce scientific methods in identifying animals, and in safeguarding them. He conducts the various awareness programs, but he too has compulsions of his own, and cannot stay back forever. Nangia, who was once a fiery young forest officer, whom Vidya idolized, is now veering towards bureaucratic norms and looks for easy way out. Bansal, played by Brijendra Kala, is a slimy boss who has no real intentions of public service. He only wants to keep the local MLA happy, and his interest lies in singing at parties and generally fooling around.

And finally, there is Vidya Vincent, essayed superbly by Vidya Balan, who has come out as a symbol of women empowerment, with her choice of movies. As Vidya Vincent, she does full justice to the role of a forest officer who is passionate about her work and wants to form a bond with the villagers where they can cohabit without any clashes. At the same time, she is also seen fighting patriarchy, where, as a woman officer she isn’t taken seriously at first. In a hilarious scene, her husband is seen pleading with her to keep her govt job which is recession proof and has many benefits, while his corporate job could be at risk since they were laying off people. But along with such a husband, she also has to face her mother-in-law who constantly asks her to start a family, nags about her not wearing jewelry and not appearing like a typical Indian woman. Vidya has supportive mother, but even that support is seen to be running dry towards the end. Her job, and mission T-12 is her only respite.

At a leisurely pace with running length of 130 mins, the movie takes us through the vast forest areas of Madhya Pradesh. The director Amit Masurkar and cameraman Rakesh Haridas, spend a lot of time on the fantastic forest trails. They explain how cameras are placed to spot the animals, and how scientific DNA testing is used to identify the maneater etc. In a poignant scene, they also lament at how a green corridor expressway and a copper quarry are located in the dense of the forest, thereby dividing it into two forest areas and how that hampers movement of animals. Even in the movie Newton, Masurkar had the forest areas as his backdrop. And this shows that he is a nature lover. And in this movie, the metaphor of Sherni, has been brought out very well. Its not only T-12, but Vidya herself who is being hounded. And the movie is all about how the sherni fights back.

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