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.