The man-animal conflict is increasing in our country, with each passing year, as more and more forest land is being taken over for residential and other purposes. It is a burning issue but surprisingly, very few films have dealt with this issue. NEWTON  director Amit Masurkar takes up this initiative and comes up with SHERNI. The intriguing trailer and Vidya Balan’s towering presence has generated hype for the film. So does SHERNI manage to thrill and enlighten the audience? Or does it fail to impress? Let’s analyse.
SHERNI is the story of a tough forest officer intending to capture a tigress that has caused havoc in a region. Vidya Vincent (Vidya Balan) has joined as the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) in the Bijaspur Forest Division. Her husband Pawan (Mukul Chadda) is away in Mumbai while she resides alone in a residence allotted by the Forest Department. She is not happy with the promotions and salary hikes that she has received in the last 9 years and wants to quit. But Pawan advises against doing so as his corporate job is on shaky grounds. One day, Vidya learns that a tiger was spotted close to a village. A few days later, the tiger kills a villager, leading to anger among the locals. Through the camera traps, the forest officers learn that it’s a tigress, named T12, which is behind the killing of the villager. The elections are around the corner and the sitting MLA, G K Singh (Amar Singh Parihar), makes it a political issue. He promises the village residents that he’ll kill the tigress and thus provide respite to them. On the other hand, P K Singh (Satyakam Anand) is an ex MLA who wants to get back to power. He provokes people against G K Singh. Amidst this madness, another villager is killed while she goes to collect wood in the forest. G K Singh then invites Ranjan Rajhans aka Pintu (Sharat Saxena), a self-proclaimed conservationist but who is actually a hunter. He desires to kill T12 to fulfil his hunger for hunting. Vidya, however, is not in favour of killing the animal. She advises the villagers to stay away from the forest. Using camera traps and tracking the pug marks, she hopes to find T12, tranquillize her and then release her in a nearby national park. Time is running out and it’s important she succeeds in her endeavour before it snowballs into a huge controversy and before Pintu hunts the tigress down. What happens next forms the rest of the film.
Aastha Tiku’s story is impressive. The issue keeps coming up in the news all the time but to see a whole film dedicated to it is rare. But Aastha Tiku’s screenplay is bland and stretched. The initial portions are interesting but after a point, the proceedings seem repetitive. And the climax is the biggest downer. Amit Masurkar and Yashasvi Mishra’s dialogues are simple and sharp. A few one-liners are unexpectedly funny and help to keep the interest going.
Amit Masurkar’s direction is average. He seems to love shooting in forests. NEWTON was majorly set in a jungle and so is SHERNI. A few scenes are exceptionally helmed. Amit also neatly explains the role of the forest officer, the concept of Forest Friends, how bureaucracy and government apathy can mess up things etc. On the flipside, he directs the film like a documentary. On top of that, the film’s run time is 130 minutes. It’s a bit too long and ideally, the film should have been under two hours. At certain points, nothing much is happening and we get to see repeated scenes of forest officers and others searching for the tigress. These scenes are sure to test the patience of the viewers. The finale moreover is disappointing and bewildering. A few questions remain unanswered and it leaves audiences confused as to what exactly happened. Lastly, Vidya Vincent’s character is not that impressive, and more on that later.
SHERNI begins on a dry note. The opening credits are shown on a black screen with no music. It makes it clear that the film is for niche audiences. The beginning portions are engaging as audiences get acquainted with Vidya Vincent, her job, the search for the tigress etc. The humour quotient also works well. Two scenes that stand out in the first hour are when G K Singh storms an awareness programme of Hassan Noorani (Vijay Raaz), and P K Singh chasing Vidya’s senior Bansal (Brijendra Kala) in his office. The latter is quite amusing and novel, and would surely be appreciated. In the second half, one expects fireworks as the characters seem quite interesting and their conflicting motives were a perfect recipe for a captivating drama. Unfortunately, the makers don’t handle it well. The film ends on an unjustified and drab note.
Vidya Balan as expected gets into the skin of her character and delivers yet another commendable performance. She looks and suits the part and makes one forget about her past performances. However, her character is not well fleshed out. The promotional campaign had drawn parallels between her character and that of the tigress. However, Vidya Vincent doesn’t really protest or rather, she doesn’t really roar when she witnesses injustice happening around. There are scenes where she’s just a silent bystander. In the end, one finally gets hopeful that she’ll take up matters into her own hands. But the makers don’t explain it well and hence the character loses its sheen. Sharat Saxena is credited immediately after Vidya in the opening credits and rightly so as he has an important part. He’s too good as a passionate hunter who can go to any lengths to achieve his goal. Vijay Raaz doesn’t raise laughs for a change and yet, he’s very impressive. Neeraj Kabi (Nangia) has a great screen presence. Sadly, even his character’s confusing actions seem unconvincing. Mukul Chadda is decent while Brijendra Kala is dependable. Anoop Trivedi (Pyare Lal) is funny and a great find. Satyakam Anand leaves a huge mark while Amar Singh Parihar does well. Gopal Dutt (Saiprasad) is wasted. Ila Arun (Pawan’s mother) is okay; her track in fact increases the film’s length. Suma Mukundan (Vidya’s mother) and Nidhi Diwan (Reshma; Hassan’s wife) don’t get much scope. Sampa Mandal (as the feisty villager Jyoti) is too good.
Bandish Projekt’s music is poor. ‘Bandar Baant’ is the only song in the film. It is relegated to the background and fits well into the narrative. Benedict Taylor and Naren Chandavarkar’s background score is minimal and impactful. Rakesh Haridas’s cinematography is splendid and the forest scenes especially are very well captured. Devika Dave’s production design is straight out of life. Manoshi Nath, Rushi Sharma and Bhagyashree Rajurkar’s costumes are non-glamorous, in sync with the demand of the script. Futureworks and The Cirqus’ VFX is great in the scenes of the tiger. But it is unrealistic in the bear sequence. Dipika Kalra’s editing is not up to the mark. The film ought to have been shorter.
On the whole, SHERNI rests on an interesting storyline and Vidya Balan’s performance. But the slow and documentary-style narrative, longer runtime and bewildering climax ruins the impact.