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Vidya Balan’s Sherni is just a reflection of the casual sexism Indian women face in everyday life
Vidya Balan as Vidya Vincent in Amazon Prime Video’s Sherni is easily one of the most cathartic characters for women audiences in recent times. The will and ambition of a woman dies a brutal death in the first 11 minutes of the movie. She plays the role of a forest department officer who is trying to rehabilitate tigers while saving the lives of the local villagers.when Vidya Vincent expresses dissent over being stagnated in a government job with no growth over nine years of service, her husband doesn’t give her much choice, moreover casually expects her to continue with the “perks” of a government job because his own job in the private sector is not secure due to recession.
When a man doesn’t give 100 per cent to his job or profession, his incompetency may be brushed under the rug. But, when a woman gives her 1000 per cent to work and family, proving her competency and talent, she’s often served sarcasm, irrelevant criticism, followed by comparison with male counterparts, and buried under the yolk of patriarchy.
When Vidya gives a show-cause notice to a contractor who hasn’t fulfilled his duties, he offers her orange barfi (sweets) under the pretence of being a famous local MLAS brother-in-law. When she further presses him for not doing his job, instead of giving a reason, he says he can bring pastries and cake the next time. A woman in a commanding position becomes a mere designation on paper in Sherni. Her word and skills are deflated to the ground among annoyingly misogynistic men.
Sherni skillfully shows when a woman tries to speak, most likely, the stage and mic are taken away from her. There’s a stinging silence and discomfort on Vidya’s face throughout, which will resonate with a lot of women who’re suppressed at workplaces and homes in the light of sexism.
Her relationship with her senior (Neeraj Kabi) whom she looks up to since her early days soon turns sour and changes into astonishment (and a bitter one), when Vidya follows protocol and tries to safely transport a tigress (T12) to a nearby national park. Neeraj sits on a table surrounded by entitled men and asks if Vidya’s transfer orders are ready (as a repercussion for being stern about her process to rehabilitate T12 and her cubs). He even tells Vidya, “Learn to pick your battles,” to which she quite sastifyingly responds and calls him pathetic and a coward.
The beauty of Sherni lies in its simplicity. The thing about the writing and direction of Sherni is that writer Aastha Tiku and director Amit Masurkar (Newton) have not shoved the everyday issues that women navigate through in life, in your face. They perhaps make it look normal because it is in fact normal for Asians to see this everyday.
The idea is maybe not to screech against sexim and corruption. Sherni is just a reflection and an effortless one to show what’s happening around us. It’s up to us to acknowledge and react. Much like Newton, Masurkar leaves the interpretation to you.
Burning public property during elections, political issues and gundaism, casual sexism in a bureaucratic environment, lack of understanding about community, sustainable farming, cattle and environmental balance are all showcased in this 2-hour long film, which is quite an essential watch for students and countrymen who’d want to learn more about the impact of human behaviour on the environment and climate change.
At some point during the film, when Vidya has taken in too much of everything, she sits on the cliff of a plateau and breaks down with tears streaming down her face. That’s the moment many women and men yearn to have. It’s relieving and uncomfortable at the same time. But it’s needed.
Sherni has its own pace and takes time to put the puzzle together. The sound department: Anish John, Arun Rana and Shantanu Yennemedi deserve a special mention.
As for Vidya Balan, just the fact that her understated persona in the film leaves much-needed ripples in the viewer’s mind, speaks volumes about her choices. She is not bigger than the script or the movie. This is her second solo release during the pandemic, that too direct to OTT. She’s an actor and a rather secure one. She’s got nothing left to prove.
Director: Amit Masurkar
Cast: Vidya Balan, Neeraj Kabi, Mukul Chadda, Sharad Saxena, Vijay Raaz, Brijendra Kala
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video.