Readers Write In #380: Sherni is alarming, excellent

Posted on July 6, 2021

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(by Pooja Nair)

Sherni is not a title role for Vidya Balan and thank God for that. No disrespect to Ms Balan who is excellent as a forest officer trying to do her job, and nothing but. Sherni is T12, a tigress, a mother, trying to progress from the borderlands to the jungle. In her way are villages teeming with humans and herbivores. If the challenges weren’t daunting enough, also in her way is a copper mine, in the middle of the jungle. In one sweeping spine-chilling scene, Balan sits at the edge of the mine and looks on at the apocalyptic destruction of the natural world. The tiger is the apex predator of the jungle. A wonder of nature, that the Earth has tirelessly evolved over, hold your breath, two million years. Its visual grandeur, burning bright at ten feet long, clearly raise the mystique and wildlife tourism potential of a forest but its presence does much more. It is an umbrella species that assures us that the pyramid of life under it, lives.

This significant premise is mercifully in the hands of an earnest and sensitive director in Amit Masurkar, who’s last feature Newton was India’s official selection to the Academy awards. The performances are wonderful all round, especially the forest guards playing themselves and Brijendra Kala as out of breath and depth Bansal. Ila Arun makes her mark in a small part with spot-on comic timing.

Vidya Balan’s own metamorphosis is subtle and ably portrayed. She goes from jaded by the circus around her to horrified by the extent of its apathy and corruption. In a world that insists on labels and genres, Sherni is in fact to me a story of women empowerment, the real kind. Knowing the right thing to do and then doing it inspite of opposition is empowerment.

Vidya Vincent is a lone warrior, resilient in doing her best, no matter the circumstances and no matter that it is a losing battle. She is not heroic, but she is sane, she is honest. Two of the best cinematic scenes were Noorani’s educational wildlife skit and Vincent’s patient tracking of T12 from a machan. Seconds away from her mission, a noisy rabble thwarts her and we see the tigress bounding away in a beautiful overhead shot. One scene that did not work for me was a round table discussion of the crisis where one character suggests the cordoning off of the forest areas as national parks in the future so these man-animal conflicts do not arise. That is sensible but both Vincent and Noorani rubbish it. That did not ring true. As experienced forest officers they would know that any notion of co-existence with modern man is naive. Human life is valuable, all 8 billion of them, and animal life is valuable, whatever measly number of them are left in the wild. And neither are safe in proximity to each other. Noorani even suggests that humans foraging in the forest is somehow beneficial to the forest. Bees are symbiotic, birds are symbiotic. Humans are not. The forest must be left to animals. It is ethical towards both, it is common sense.

Sherni’s concluding minutes could not have been better, more poignant. The hopeful spotting of T12’s cubs (I choose to believe Vincent’s character was able to release them in the jungle) but also the realistic next posting in a place where magnificent animals are reduced to stuffed mannequins. An alarming spoiler alert, for the future life of the planet.