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One of the newest and the most talked about movies released recently has been “Sherni” on Amazon Prime. Vidya Balan plays the lead role of Vidya Vincent, a newly appointed Divisional Forest Officer. Vidya and her team, race against time to catch a man-eating tigress who has been terrorising the villages in her area. This understated drama depicts the Man versus wild conflict along with the greed and self-absorption of the humans. There is also a strong undercurrent of feminism running through the movie. Many forest guards have been shown as women. This is true in real life as well, a fact many of us are unaware of. The character of Jyoti, a vocal local villager, shows the strength of village women who are unafraid of expressing their thoughts. The movie, however, belongs to Vidya.
When the movie starts, Vidya is not totally satisfied with her job. She complains to her husband, who lives far away in Mumbai. He argues against quitting her job since it is cushy, with job security. He, himself, has had a bad appraisal and is fearing being fired. She is not convinced but agrees. Soon, however, the tiger T12 starts terrorising the village and Vidya is drawn in. Vidya is determined to nab the tigress alive and to save it from the hunter who is determined to hunt the tigress down.
Vidya is passionately involved in her work and is honest and forthright in her dealings. But she is also aware of the rot in the system as well as her own limitation. Vidya tries to push against the odds, but in most instances, picks her battles. She speaks less, but once in a while, you see flashes of fire in her. Vidya is aware of being a woman in a profession dominated by men. You can sense her exclusion during the office party and later during the flag end of the hunt. She is quite often ignored, or her views are dismissed during interactions between office colleagues. This fact quietly underpins the boys club and sexist attitude that still prevails in our workplaces. The scene at the office party where Vidya is offered juice, but she casually asks for a whisky, underlines the unspoken boundaries we have kept for women.
Vidya’s mother-in-law( played brilliantly by Ila Arun) is the stereotypical mother-in-law who calls herself modern and open-minded. She is the poster girl of how ingrained the expectations are from an Indian daughter-in-law. Through the character of Vidya’s mother and her mother-in-law, the director shows the double standards of most Indian households. The pressure on the daughter-in-law to be presentable all the time. The onus on the daughter-in-law to produce the precious grandchild. The decision might be the couple’s but the pressure will always on “bahu“.
One of the most hard-hitting scenes is the one at the dinner party at Professor Noorani’s house. On Vidya and Professor Noorani, having to leave for an emergency, Vidya’s mother-in-law asks Vidya to either postpone going in the night or else, take Vidya’s husband along for “safety” sake. The scene was almost absurdly ironic. Vidya’s husband, who has no qualms about Vidya living alone, is suddenly worried about the danger Vidya is in because she has to leave in the middle of dinner. He tries to assume the role of “protector“. I simply loved how quietly and firmly Vidya reminds him that this is her job.
In these days of in-your-face OTT series and movies, Sherni is a stark departure, with its languid pace and almost negligible drama. “Sherni” is not a very vocal feminist movie. There are no long-winded lectures as to what all a woman is capable of. It is subtle, without much moralising or drama. It quietly shows the state of affairs, leaving it to the spectators to draw their own conclusion. And therein lies the USP of the film, it makes the viewer think.
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