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Sherni Movie Review: Vidya Balan performace is definitely to watch for on Amazon Prime

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Guwahati: Sherni opens to a panoramic view of the forest. You know you have landed in the middle of dense, raw danger. So does Vidya Balan, who plays Divisional Forest Officer Vidya Vincent, in the film. Vidya is here to resolve human-animal conflicts – stuff we read about in the newspapers every day. But her battles go beyond just that. She has to find her own footing as a woman in a man’s world.

Just like the central force of the film – tigers – Vidya also lies low, not from fear, but for aim. She subtly finds her way through the jungle, just as Sherni attempts to journey Hindi cinema to a terrain that has been probed, but not explored.

In Amit Masurkar’s Sherni, we are introduced to India’s wild spaces, which face seemingly unstoppable threats from poaching, deforestation and overgrazing. That’s one side of the story. On the other, there are communities that rely on forest returns for their livelihoods. Meanwhile, cattle and men venturing into the jungle are turning up dead. Yes, a wild cat is on the loose. Caught in the middle of this are forestry officials and our protagonist Vidya Vincent.

Sherni is reminiscent of Avni or T1’s case. The tigress was accused of killing 13 people. After a months-long hunt, she was shot dead in 2018 in Yavatmal, Maharashtra, by a civilian hunter-led search accompanied by some forest department officials. Many activists described it as ‘cold-blooded murder’ and the case even reached the Supreme Court of India. The case is still going on with officials trying to find whether Avni was a man-eater or not.

Coming back to Sherni, Vidya soon realises that humans and tigers are both endangered. This fact hits her when lives are lost in the jungle and a politician grabs the opportunity to make big promises about showing the tiger its rightful place – sending it to a zoo or a circus, that is. Even the forest department remains complacent and corrupt. Things are not that different in reel or real lives.

Sherni has been shot gloriously across the jungles of Madhya Pradesh. However, as the jeeps speed along the jungle track, we aren’t quite jolted out of our seats. The thrill of the mysterious forest isn’t quite felt, even when you are reminded of John Vaillant’s saying, “The tiger will see you a hundred times before you see him once.” We feel a bit more camerawork in the jungle could have worked to create the much-needed thrill.

The driving force of the entire film quite rightly is Vidya Balan. She doesn’t make bold statements as she challenges patriarchal mindset at work and at home. She is restrained, but determined, a rare idealist in a flawed system. Her gender often comes up in conversations with the locals. They are not outright condescending but point out how a ‘lady officer’ has been sent to handle ugly situations. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing far from reality. She still tackles all the prickly issues in an impressive manner. As an actor, Vidya is well-suited for the part. She knows how to let her expressions convey her emotions where words would only add to the chaos.

In Sherni, on her mission to capture the tigress who has been declared a man-eater, Vidya encounters many obstacles. Everyone seems to have a piece of advice for her; no one seems to have faith in her actions. Yet, with the help of a small team and locals, she does her job. She doesn’t sit behind a desk, she is the woman on the ground. When she comes home, she tries to maintain peace there too. Vidya calmly expresses her life’s choices, rather than making big speeches.

In the end, you realise there are certain rules of the jungle for everyone – be the inhabitants, animals or mankind. Holding your ground against the powers that be takes courage, venturing out of your territory can be dangerous, yet you do what it takes to survive. No one is always the predator or the prey. Just like when confronted with humans, animals at times attack and other times, silently disappear into the darkness all for self-preservation.

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