‘Kal bulao phir Manish ko’
…and the cycle continues.
Though the promo of Sherni suggested that the film is about the battle between man and beast, scratch the surface and you realize that it is a lot more than that. Very importantly, it is a statement on the system, red tapism and bureaucracy, as evident in the aforementioned dialogue. For the uninitiated (and this is not a spoiler here), Manish is the name of a contractor who has connects with the local MLA and is responsible for the upkeep of not just the forest office but also animals who pass through the forest to quench their thirst.
Once Vidya Balan assumes charge as the DFO, she wonders why waterholes in the forest are dry and asks for the contractor. The junior officers tell her about ‘Manish sir’. Knocking off the ‘sir’ part, she calls for Manish to her office. Later in the film, when another officer assumes charge, he wonders why the office walls aren’t painted. Yet again, the man in the thick of things is ‘Manish sir’. Off goes the ‘sir’ part, and in comes the command to summon Manish.
‘Kal bulao phir Manish ko’
That’s the manner in which director Amit V Masurkar unfolds the narrative of Sherni where his Newton [Rajkummar Rao] touch is pretty apparent. The jungle feel, realistic situations, actors who are more of characters than performers, junior artists who seem to be the villagers themselves, the sound design which makes you feel that you are actually feeling the atmosphere, the set design which is so real life that you wonder if it’s an actual office, guest house or training hall on display.
However, from the core story perspective, it is a ‘sherni’ which is trying to find food. Yes, human beings fall prey to her but the larger question is – ‘What forced an animal to attack?’ After all, is it an animal which has invaded human space or is it vice versa? Has the greed of mankind overpowered the need of nature and its inhabitants?
Sherni is yet another film where Vidya Balan carries an entire film on her shoulders. She doesn’t roar or growl, she silently tries to make things right in a system which is wrong. While she fights off sexism amidst colleagues as well as local politicians, she is also challenged by local ‘baahubalis’ who masquerade as conservationists, only to add on their ‘kills’ to their prestigious tally. One such man is Sharat Saxena who could well be boasting of ‘Ab Tak Chappan’ when it comes to the tigers and leopards that he has hunted to ‘save the villagers’.
It’s the conversations between Vidya and Sharat which are in fact the best part of the film. Of course, there is also Brijendra Kale, a frustrated ‘babu’ who wants to get a transfer pronto and also a professor Vijay Raaz, who forever carries an attitude of ‘karm kare jaa phal ki iccha mat kar’. There is Neeraj Kabi too as a veteran in the ‘business of forests’ who has taken the whole man v/s animal balance to a different plain by instead balancing out his functioning as a government officer who needs to ‘pick and choose’ his battles, especially when politicians are involved.
All of this and more makes Sherni a layered affair which acts as an entertainer of a different kind. It isn’t the kind that makes for a frothy feel good entertainment on a date night, but for those who wish to be educated and enlightened about the functioning of a forest office in the midst of all the challenges that plague them, Sherni indeed makes for a thought provoking film.