A still from the film Sherni/ Credits: Sherni
A still from the film Sherni/ Credits: Sherni Movie

Sherni is the story of a fierce lioness amid many lions in the jungle of Indian bureaucracy. She is Vidya Vincent (played by Vidya Balan) who has been posted into a protected jungle as the DFO in a challenging Madhya Pradesh terrain where not only does she have to deal with the angry villagers fearful of a man-eater but also a group of local politicians who continuously work to pull the villagers on their side while disturbing Vidya Vincent’s plans. This is a tough posting, but Vidya seems determined to leave her mark because she has got it after nine years of a mundane desk job. While on duty she tries to juggle between her very professional, determined zeal to change things and take matters into her own hands and a corrupted, laid back set of seniors who keep trying to undermine her. 

While her positing makes her come to terms with the forests of Madhya Pradesh and a nearby village threatened by a tigress on the hunt, on a deeper level Vidya Vincent has to strike a balance and work towards a complex resolution of the man versus wild balance.  There are moments when Vidya Vincet is tired of working in a non-enthusiastic, undermining and male dominated department and hints at wanting to quit, but her husband insists that she continue despite the odds as he isn’t too sure about his own job back in the comfort of Mumbai. At moments in the film it becomes visible that Vincent is a loner at the personal level, with no-one who can dive deep into her conflicted mind. She speaks little and seems contemplative but this doesn’t take away from her role as a very powerful and determined forest officer, she counters her male superiors with sarcasm, wit and an uncanny sense of humour. 

A tigress named T12 has been identified by the forest department as the man-eater who has been targeting both farm animals as well as villagers and this leaves behind a great sense of panic and helplessness because the fields of the villagers are located between two forests and its inevitable that they work there because they are dependent on it for their livelihoods.  This is quickly made into an election issue by two contending politicians who begin to cause disturbances in Vidya Vincent’s own action plan and assert their influences on the department too. She is  continuously challenged by a male dominated work culture where on one hand her own boss played by Bijendra Kalra has a very callous attitude to the problem and wanted the problem to just disappear on its own and who heavily relies on Ranjan Rajhans played by Sharat Saxena who is an ally of the politicians to deal with the problem of growing tiger attacks in the area. It’s amazing how he calls himself a conservationist but prides himself in the number of tigers he has killed so far. In this conflicted and fragmented domain of action, Vidya Vincent finds a friend and ally in Hassan Noorani played by Vijay Raaz who plays the role of a zoology professor in a local college. She also finds a friend in Jyoti, a member of the village committee who helps her find her way in these challenging times. 

Screengrab from Film Sherni (2021)

The story and direction of Sherni is a refreshing departure from what we have seen in the recent times all owing to its rich visual landscape, intricately woven storyline, beautifully crafted characters and a theme that is both important and sensitive. 

Director Amit Masurkar has delivered a remarkable film and Aastha Tiku has done a great job with the intricate and meticulously composed screenplay of the film. This sentiment is beautifully captured in the film through the words of a child who says,“Sher hai to jungle hai, jungle hai to baarish hai, baarish hai toh paani hai, paani hai to hum hai.”

Vidya Balan and all the other actors in the film have delivered a remarkable performance and the beauty of the film is accentuated by the fact that there are no dramatic overtones, no unnecessary dance and song sequences or anything over the top. The non-actors in the film too have put up a remarkable show and have added to the authenticity and genuineness of the script. Remarkable performances have been delivered by the team of actors including Vidya Balan, Bijendra Kalra, Vijay Raaz, Neera Kabi, Sampa Mandal,Sharat Saxena, Satyakam Anand and others.  

The audiences are kept glued to the screen till the very end. This is a very significant film on the need for ecological balance and must be seen by all. It ought to also be seen because its a film of a different kind far from the regular Bollywood films that we see with the age old hero-heroine-villain sequence and an over the top display of wealth and affluence shot in exotic locations laden with melodrama and action. This is a realistic, powerful and deeply sensitive film taking us deep into the sublime forests of Madhya Pradesh while exposing us to the challenges of  striking a balance between man and environment and that is exactly where its beauty lies. It’s also a film about a female officer who is determined, fearless and ready to take on the challenges that fall in her path despite a male dominated, uninspiring and fatiguing work environment that she finds herself in. Kudos! To the team of Sherni for making a film with a difference!