Amit Masurkar’s Sherni is an understated gem of a film.
Unlike what the title suggests, this flick is not exactly an adrenaline junkie’s
wet dream with thrills and chills to spare, though it does have moments of
tension. DFO Vidya Vincent (Vidya Balan) has her task cut out for her when she
finds herself in the unenviable position of somehow saving T12, a man – eating Tigress
who is actually more sinned against since she has been forced out of her
natural habitat thanks to corporate greed, corruption, greed and dried – up watering
holes. It doesn’t help that Vidya is up against entrenched patriarchy, self –
serving bosses, blood – thirsty hunters, and smarmy politicians who are keen to
use any crisis to their advantage and shore up their vote banks.
My favorite Vidya
Balan performances are the ones that are pitched at a lower register (Kahaani, Parineeta) as opposed to her
OTT turns in films like The Dirty Picture.
She performs with admirable restraint here and has seldom been more effective. Her
character has a demanding job where the fact that she is extremely good at what
she does counts for beans when she is repeatedly thwarted by chest – thumping goons,
hopped up on testosterone or lazy, ineffectual, nightmarish bureaucratic types.
In Hassan Noorani (Vijay Raaz who turns in a fine performance) who is also
ridiculed as a ‘butterfly hunter’ by others of his gender for not being in a
tearing hurry to pick up a gun and join the hunt, she finds an ally who like
her does his job well under difficult circumstances.
Masurkar has a
light touch when it comes to traversing a host of sensitive subjects like
patriarchy, ecology, and politics. For instance, he subtly draws attention to
the difficulties faced by working women through various aspects of Vidya’s
situation. For instance, she is expected to entertain her husband (Mukul
Chadda), his mother and her own in the middle of a high – pressure hunt and is
pulled up for not wanting to have children and scolded for not adorning herself
with jewelry to look attractive for her husband. Having hurriedly added a few
accessories to her plain – Jane ensemble she is presented with the sight of her
husband who is wearing shorts and a tee. The fact that he showers her with
compliments does little to allay her annoyance.
There are many
points when Vidya is tempted to quit, because all her efforts seem to be
amounting to nothing. But there is a dogged determination to this character which
is proof that sometimes a little dedication and an unwillingness to give up can
make a big difference. There is a beautiful stretch where Jyoti (Sampal Mandal)
who is one of the dwellers on the fringe of the forest draws Vidya’s attention
to the impoverished circumstances of her community as well as the struggle to
make a decent living and educate their children. The DFO not only listens but
actually offers a viable solution to help the women make some money and empower
themselves. Her good deed is rewarded when Jyoti in turn helps her at a
particularly soul – sapping low point. Poignant moments like this one and Masurkar’s
refusal to take the easy way out and offer manufactured feel – good answers to
the questions raised by his film ensure that Sherni will stay with you long
after the credits have rolled.