Sherni Review: Compelling, realistic and perspective describe Vidya Balan's unconventional entertainer

A simple man-animal conflict concept may seem rather dull or subdued on paper but give it to filmmaker Amit Masurkar and he shows how to give it a nuanced satirical spin. And making Masurkar’s ideas believable is his stellar cast of Vidya Balan, Brijendra Kala, Vijay Raaz, Sharat Saxena and Neeraj Kabi.

Vaishali Jain Vaishali Jain
Updated on: June 18, 2021 10:57 IST
Sherni

Poster of Sherni featuring Vidya Balan

Photo:INSTAGRAM/VIDYA BALAN
  • Movie Name:Sherni
  • Critics Rating: 3.5 / 5
  • Release Date: June 18, 2021
  • Director: Amit Masurkar
  • Genre: Thriller

A simple man-animal concept on paper may seem rather dull or subdued but give it to filmmaker Amit Masurkar and he shows how to give it a nuanced satirical spin. Sherni, starring Vidya Balan as the lead is based on the true story of Tigress Avni or T1’s case, but from the eyes of a forest officer. The tigress was accused of killing people and after the months-long hunt, she was shot dead in 2018.

At once, the killing triggered many questions. Was it right? Was Avni really a man-eater? Can you encroach a wild animal’s territory and kill them? The film Sherni has answers to all these questions from the perspective of everybody involved in the scene. The film doesn’t segregate itself into the rights and wrongs but perception. It’s an attempt at a terrain that has been probed before in Hindi Cinema (Kaal, Haathi Mere Saathi), but not explored.

If you have watched Masurkar’s directorial Newton, you probably know, the director’s treatment of his films. There’s neither a hero nor a villain but a realistic man trapped in the power play of bureaucracy and shared humanity. Sherni empathises with a similar tone. What makes these films different is the place where these stories and characters come from. An intricate and judiciously crafted path laid out by simple and everyday people who have been systematically subjected and uprooted by privilege and prejudice.

Not just man-animal conflict, the film wraps up the understated stated into a multi-layered prelude to the politics of gender and environmental conservation. It covers a range of social, economic, and political issues with balanced weights. Distressed villagers losing their livestock, politicians propagating agendas in grim situations and government officials trying to cover the potholes, Sherni takes us through an elaborate journey of all. To top it, they hint at gender prejudices too. While Vidya's subordinate respect her and comply with her decisions, because they have to, they don't really have faith in her for obvious reasons. She knows this, we know this.

Making Masurkar’s ideas believable is his stellar cast. The seasoned actors know their part so well that at times, it almost seems like a documentary. Balan has always been acknowledged for her charming screen presence and this one’s no different. Like most Bollywood cliché’s, she doesn’t have perfect hair in the sun nor on-point make-up in the dusty jungles. She seeps into the world of Madhya Pradesh’s forest department so seamlessly, that when Brijendra Kala as Bansal enters the scene, she’s almost unrecognizable as everybody else present in the room. Just like the central force of the film - tigress - Vidya also keeps a low profile, not from fear, but for purpose and indiscernibly, she finds her way through the jungle, just as Sherni. 

Besides, Balan and Kala, the primary characters in the film are portrayed by actors Vijay Raaz, Sharat Saxena and Neeraj Kabi who are in top form. They have left their typical Bollywood image at the backdoor and gotten into the skin of the characters they’re playing. To authenticate its characters, Sherni does not have to resort to gibberish foolery to draw the audience into its besieged universe.

In addition, cinematographer Rakesh Haridas brings out the tranquillity of the forest at its best. The interiors of the jungle and the night sequences speak for themselves without any additional dialogues. 

Despite compelling performances and a believable plot, Sherni seems like a stretch with a runtime of over 2 hours. I loved the eagerly rutted storyline far more than I should have, but at some point, it did make me want to proceed with things a little faster. However, eventually, the absolute awe and exhibition of Indian wildlife swept me through the film.

Sherni is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.