Unlike its title, premise and trailer might suggest, Sherni is not a hero’s journey. It’s not about a woman roaring against a system essentially dominated by patriarchy. The title refers to a tigress T12 hunting civilians in the jungle. The conflict of man versus wild is as real as it could get. But Sherni is not a dramatized tale of righteousness and fight against the system.
We see Vidya Vincent (Vidya Balan) as the DFO navigating through the professional and personal life with resilience rather than a torchbearer of feminism. She ignores the sexist remarks and focuses on doing what’s right in the situation. Essentially everyone is a victim of a corrupt system and the one wanting to change it will be pushed down, in government jobs transferred. Balan plays this part so subtly, acing the mannerisms and body language.
The same is also true for the rest of the cast. Vijay Raaz is supremely natural in his portrayal of Hassan Noorani, a zoology professor who works with the forest department because he loves the work. Brijendra Kala as the old dog in a corrupt system, Sharat Saxena as the opportunist hunter and Neeraj Kabi as Vidya’s senior officer who has seen it all shine in everything they do in the film. Neeraj Kabi’s tired face and body language in his introductory scene tells a lot about his journey. The film in a way ends with his advice to Vidya “Learn to pick your battles”. The rest of the supporting cast, presumably picked from the Madhya Pradesh villages, the film is shot to blend easily in the chaos, giving Sherni a documentary style feel.
Movies like Sherni are equally dependent on the so-called technical side of the film. A cinematographer or a sound designer are also telling a story through their craft. Cinematography by Rakesh Haridas, background score by Benedict Taylor & Naren Chandavarkar, sound design by Anish John deserve special mention.
Director Amit Masurkar tells the story as an insider. The screenplay by Aastha Tiku and dialogue by Masurkar and Yashasvi Mishra skillfully blend information and storytelling. There’s not even the slightest ambition of making Sherni into a revolution turning Vidya Vincent into a hero. This echoes filmmaker Chaitanya Tamhane’s (Court, The Disciple) view where he in one of his interviews had said that he is not interested in the hero’s journey because that’s not the truth. Masurkar’s Sherni is one of the most realistic portrayals of a crucial social issue, and not to be missed.