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Critics Review
Sherni Review: Vidya Balan's film has all the ingredients of a perfect dish, sans the salt

Despite a novel plotline that eventually makes you question who’s the real animal in this ongoing man vs animal conflict, Amit Masurkar's Sherni is not without flaws.

3.5
Prachita Pandey
Jun 17, 2021
 
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What’s it about:

Directed by Amit Masurkar, Sherni navigates the story of a forest officer Vidya Vincent (essayed by a terrific Vidya Balan) who has recently been posted in the jungles of Madhya Pradesh to resolve the man vs beast conflict. There’s a tigress on the loose and everyone – from the villagers to the local politicians, to a civilian hunter and even the higher officials in the forest department, care little about the wild cat and just want to hunt it down. Everyone, except Vidya. That’s the plot, but only on the surface. The movie deals with much more in a subtle and understated manner.

What’s hot:

There’s a peculiar likeability in Amit Masurkar’s films. In Newton too, he places a government officer, who just wants to do his job sincerely, in the middle of wilderness and we see a similar trope happening in Sherni too. Only, here, the forces against our protagonist are far and many. Before Vidya can figure out a way to reach the Tigress and catch her alive, she has quite a few battles to fight – casual sexism in a department full of men, an angry set of villagers who’re fed up of the forest department’s lags and don’t see why a “lady officer” has been sent to a dangerous terrain, a hunter who only wants to increase his score of the number of cats he’s killed, local politicians who are only concerned about catching the wild cat and showing it its right place to win the upcoming election and the perennial question of environment vs development. Amit Masurkar subtly makes his point, highlights each of the above while carefully orchestrating a set up in which Vidya and her team try to figure out the whereabouts of the beast.

Sherni opens to a pan shot of the lush, green forest followed by Vidya’s team of officials who’re trying to mimic the movements of a tiger while setting up their cameras. You know you’re in for a treat when a brilliant background score doesn’t overpower the dialogues and leave your ears thumping, but makes you experience the sights and sounds of the dense jungle with ease. This is exactly what happens in Sherni. Though, the movie takes its time to soak you in its wilderness, it’s completely worth it.

Vidya Balan plays Vidya Vincent with a subtle nuance and maturity that we’ve come to expect of her. She’s poised and restrained on the outside while there’s a volcano of emotions, waiting to erupt on the inside. Sadly, we don’t get to see that happen in the film, except when she decides to call out her senior (played by Neeraj Kabi) for his cowardice. There are scenes in which she barely says much and lets her eyes do all the talking. Like the one in which she’s sitting on a cliff with the jungle behind her, a copper mine construction area in front of her, a letter of resignation in her hands and tears rolling down her cheeks. Dejected and unsure of her next move we feel she’s about to give in. There’s so much going on in this otherwise quite scene and Vidya shines in conveying everything, just through her emotive eyes.

The film has a host of brilliant actors who impress in the limited screen space allotted to them. Brijendra Kala as Vidya’s boss, Neeraj Kabi as her senior, Vijay Raaz as her only support and Sharat Saxena as the civilian hunter are perfectly cast. Brijendra Kala stands out in particular as he plays his part of a selfish government official with aplomb. There’s a phenomenal Ila Arun playing Vidya’s mother-in-law, who’s only concerned about why her bahu is not wearing any jewellery for a dine out, with little regard about the nature of her job.

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What’s not:

Despite a novel plotline that eventually makes you question who’s the real animal in this ongoing man vs animal conflict, the film is not without flaws. Some may argue that it takes too much time to set up the context. There are a lot of points that the film is trying to make and it may end up testing your patience quite a few times. If you’re expecting to see Vidya Balan roar with her dialoguebaazi, you’re going to be disappointed. Roar she does, but with her actions – not her lines.

While in Newton Masurkar managed to bring in some of his dark humour, you’ll find little of it in Sherni. Though the forest and the wilderness are captured beautifully, you don’t really get to experience the thrill of being inside a jungle, surrounded by the wild.

poster
Vidya Balan in a still from Sherni

Verdict:

Despite the presence of all the ingredients of a perfect dish in Sherni, it seems thoda namak kam ho gaya. Watch it for Vidya’s performance and if you’re craving to soak in some sights and sounds of the wilderness while being stuck at home.

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