Sherni is all about a man-eating tigress, a gender-defying female forest officer who as Mrs Gandhi was once famously described is the only man in the organization, and a man-baiting plot that makes almost all the male characters, including the forest office Vidya Vincent’s poor husband(Mohit Chaddha) look like corrupt wimps.
You must have noticed the female hero is named after the film’s leading lady . Says a lot about Vidya Balan’s star power that she is given not only the title role(with due apologies to the man-eating tigress) but she’s also the only incorruptible individual in a forest filled with wild animals and wilder human beings.
Everything here is greed/need-based. Even the animals are not real. An announcement in the opening credits tells us they are computer-generated, a ‘living’ irony in this humane drama about nature conservation.Sherni makes all the correct moves. The plot is populated with a bracing mix of tried-and-tested actors who always do their jobs well , and the local actors , like Sampa Madal as the firebrand activist Jyoti, from Madhya Pradesh who give to the forests an authentic flavor.
Sadly the flavor grows too pungent as the plot progresses, and we are left looking at a film with admirable lofty ideals but little control on the pace and narrative rhythm. The storytelling moves at a tired trot. Once we get the point about a man-eating tigress on the prowl who must be pacified without upsetting the convervationists , we get very little feel of Vidya’s innerlife. Most of the time she wears a uniformly dour look as if she can smell the burning milk in the kitchen.
As an actor Balan comes to fiery life in the sequence where towards the end,she walks up to her corrupt senior(Neeraj Kabi,a fine actor in an awkwardly written role) and calls him a pathetic coward.
We get the point about Vidya being superior to her colleagues and associates. But must she always act so uppity? There is a hilarious scene where Bijendra Kala, playing Vidya’s senior, recites Urdu poetry to his staffers including an academician and environmentalist(Vijay Raaz, superb) who corrects him. It’s a funny moment in a dreary office meant to lighten the load. Vidya sits through it with a gawd-what-am-I doing-here look.
Loosen up, lady.
The storytelling is as starchy and stern as its leading lady. The forests look surprisingly listless.
Rakesh Haridas’ cinematography comes alive in flashes, as in the night-time sequence where two local politicians clash after the tigress claims another victim. The writing is uneven and the editing jerky at times. To cite an example, Vidya meets her senior Nangia(Neeraj Kabi) at a get-together after a long time .They catch up. Just a few minutes later she attends a meeting presided by Nangia where they meet as though a long time had elapsed.
Elsewhere the narrative rushes through the events as if in a hurry to get somewhere, though I am not sure where. I would have liked to know more about Vidya’s relationship with her absentee husband. When he comes visiting in the forest with his mother(Ila Arun) and his mother-in-law(Suma Mukundan) there is just a bit of the domestic drama(a mosquito net falling noisily in the middle of the night on the couple had Ila Arun moaning, “Enjoy enjoy!” from off-camera) after which it’s back to the forest range in a film with plenty of forest but no range.Which is really strange considering the fine talent involved.
Vidya Balan and Vijay Raaz are on top of the game.Sharat Saxena as a local unauthorized hunter introducing himself as a ‘paideyashi conservationist’ is a hoot. In one sequence he gets together with his political and bureaucratic friends for a campfire party where they all make noises like animals.
I can just imagine what Vidya’s response to that would have been were she also invited. But my favourite performance is by Vidya’s cat Tuffy who simply ‘meows’ down all the competition. As for director Amit Masur, two back-to-back films set in the forests, Newton and now Sherni.We get the point about tribal concerns for ecological imbalance. Could we move on?
Sherni is too propagandist , preachy , polemical and plodding to make its desired impact.
Image source: IMDb