Readers Write In #382: Who is the real Sherni?

Posted on July 7, 2021


(by Ashwini Kulkarni)

Bollywood depicts popular culture where good has to win over evil. But if your story is dealing with Indian bureaucracy, can it be a straight forward good versus evil?

Amit Masurkar’s ‘Newton’ and ‘Sherni’ have an Indian officer, someone in authority as the protagonist. In the first the theme was democracy and in the later environment conservation. Both these subjects are very broad and very complex. There are quite a few other similarities like the jungle and the villagers but I do not wish to delve into that.

Neither Newton nor Vidya Vincent are hero or heroine of the story. The story gives us glimpses of people’s lives and its interaction with Indian Government. The direct and indirect injustices, the intentional and unintentional injustices meted out to the citizens is evident. Our protagonist can see that, they are intelligent and sensitive but they feel trapped in the ‘system’. The ‘system’ made up of their own familiar, seniors officers, feels distant and unapproachable in times of conflict and distress. There is no one to reach out to, there is no one to look up to. Hence our protagonist are not Heroes, they do not change the world around them. Their struggle is to resist succumbing to the system.

To draw a parallel, in Article 15, our Police Officer finds the third girl, lifts her in full view and gets her out of her hiding. This is an important piece of ‘evidence’ and humanity which gives the required strength to the case of two other girls’ rapes. In that expansive frame he is the hero that we so long to see. There are no such heroic moments in Sherni.

So, are these movies cynical? No, because the seeds of hope, the real heroes are elsewhere, can be found in other characters.

In Sherni its Jyoti, the Gram Panchayat elected member who shows agency and is the real conservator of forest, tiger and village life. She understands the importance of it all and its relevance to their lives in ways more than one. She portrays ease and purpose. She says my daughter may not be interested in studies but she has athletics in her. She dreams of buying a motorcycle if the harvest is good and is ready to learn to drive. She shows much more agency than our protagonist.

Vidya, the protagonist gives a glimpse of her back story in one scene when her husband says – you are as you were in college and she denies it with a firm and calm no. So we gather that then she was a rebel going into a cross cultural-religious marriage but now she has changed.

The end scenes are quite telling, Vidya, moves to a completely artificially conserved dead animals’ museum whereas Jyoti has taken responsibility of saving and caring for the tiger cubs.

In Newton, it is the School teacher, female school teacher who shows the depth of understanding and has a dream for her people and has confidence in herself to walk that path to pursue the same.

The female elected representatives and the female school teacher are the future heroines, for the people and for the broader themes of democracy and conservation. If there is a sequel of these films then these characters of Jyoti and the school teacher (both females, coincidence?) will be the protagonist. They are the hope and confidence of future of India.