Cast: Vidya Balan, Brijendra Kala, Sharat Saxena, Vijay Raaz, Neeraj Kabi
Director: Amit Masurkar
The treatment of Sherni makes it a different film. It’s simple storytelling of a very complex matter—man versus wild and their mutually exclusive survival. Some Bollywood filmmakers have attempted to capture the emotional depths of human and animal relationship but these stories never scratched beyond the surface. Even films such as Haathi Mere Saathi and Teri Meherbaniyan showed the animals as supporting beings to the human characters and never as independent entities.
More recent ones like The Forest or Roar focussed on the conflicts but never probed the possible reasons behind it. Director Amit Masurkar’s Sherni is unique in this sense as it shows the involvement of different parties interested in an immediate solution of the man-animal conflict rather than a long-term one. Masurkar (Sulemani Keeda, Newton) identifies three-four different parties and then let them deal with a prowling tiger somewhere in Madhya Pradesh.
One of them is Vidya Vincent (Vidya Balan), a strict DFO, whose clueless boss Bansal (Brijendra Kala) wants to get the man eater killed with the help of a local hunter Pintu Bhaiyya (Sharat Saxena). Then there are local politicians and other forest department officers who don’t want to lose their grip over the issue because it may prove beneficial during the elections.
Just like Newton, there are no villains here either. Aastha Tiku’s superb screenplay is full of sarcastic comments on the functioning of administration and local politicians but they all seem to be doing what they think is right for the local public at that point of time. Their means and methods might be different but their intentions are certainly not black.
In fact, this is how the narrative of Sherni compels us to take every character seriously. Like a fly on the wall experience, you see Vidya Vincent navigating through tough terrains only to reach nowhere. It’s indeed a complex tale—the government wants to save the tigers, the villagers want to use jungles for daily resources and the tigers need a fearless habitat. On top of it, local politicians want to use tiger as a trophy of their guarantee to villagers’ protection.
Add a dose of subtle humour to the proceedings and you have a smooth story at your hands. It’s not the obvious kind of corruption we witness in Bollywood films. Rather it’s more about treating wildlife as an inferior species. That way, it deals with moral corruption and how it impacts decision making in crucial conditions.
Vidya Balan, Brijendra Kala, Vijay Raaz, Sharat Saxena and Neeraj Kabi, all primary characters are in top form. They have shed their usual Bollywood image and gotten into the skin of the characters.
There’s a scene in the film when Bansal, who is very fond of holding his own ‘darbar’ inside his office, is standing in front of a stuffed swamp deer’s head. It seems like the deer’s horns are actually his crown. Then there is another one where Sharat Saxena is making a joke about tiger in a drunk state. These metaphors hold meanings and make Sherni a well-crafted film. These semantics are not supposed to give you a jolt but to make you look beyond the obvious. It’s definitely smart filmmaking, something that doesn’t spoon feed the audience.
Vidya Balan has once again shown the willingness to take up an unconventional story and she has done it well, but Sherni is a director’s film. Masurkar has shown impeccable maturity in handling a lesser known subject. Sherni deserves your attention because it’s about synergy—your synergy with the surroundings.