Roughly two and half years ago, around November 2018, forest officials in Maharashtra with help from a private hunter had managed to kill a tigress named Avni after mounting a massive hunt. This was in accordance with the Supreme Court’s directive. Following the killing, there were both celebrations and accusations. The hunter was provided with a silver tiger trophy, while activists talked about how it was a cold-blooded murder without any effort to actually tranquilise the tiger and transport it to a protected area, thereby saving her life.

For many, this episode of tiger hunt would probably still be fresh in minds considering the news coverage it received. Amit Masurkar must have certainly had this incident playing in his mind when he decided to make Sherni. So Avni or T1 becomes T12, the hunter Asghar Ali Khan becomes Pintu bhaiya, who prefers a havan before starting his hunting expedition. Both Asghar and Pintu seem to share similar parents and have similar records when it comes to hunting. There are multiple other similarities, except with different names.

What he did not get into his mix was the protest and campaign that was going on simultaneously to save the tiger. Amit keeps a relatively simpler screenplay, angling occasionally at ideas such as development versus conservation and gender discrimination. His primary focus is political and bureaucratic monkey business that unfolds around such an incident.

Our protagonist is Vidya Vincent, a DFO who newly been appointed to the area. She has struck a field job after years of slogging behind the desk with barely any incentive or promotion. And she realises that this is not an easy assignment as now she has to deal with people rather than files. Vidya’s honest efforts find blockades in her superior’s willingness to bend backward to please the people holding political powers. She finds support in Professor Noorani, played beautifully by Vijay Raaz. Noorani is a zoologist who steps in as an expert to help Vidya with knowledge of the animal. Together they set out to save the tiger and the villagers while hoping Pintu bhaiya does not beat them at it.

Sherni is shot well. Masurkar successfully provides a glimpse of the terrain and its challenge. His approach is similar to a documentary maker, lending the story the believability it needs. And his dialogues add the zing, ensuring that the entertainment factor is kept alive.

He is also helped by his casting. Every person on the screen looks and behaves the part. While the likes of Bijendra Kala and Neeraj Kabi live up to their competency, you are left surprised by Sharat Saxena. As Pintu bhaiya he strikes gold. And there’s Vidya Balan, never failing to deliver. This time as a cat-fearing Malayali-Christian married to a north Indian, living away from her husband, absorbed in work, and aspiring to do more than what has been laid out for her. The one scene, also a part of the trailer, where her mother-in-law asks her to deck up a bit before heading out, her reaction is worth watching on repeat. Here is a woman who does not react much to anything and yet when she finally knows she has lost, you finally get a glimpse into her vulnerability, and you see the pain. As the camera goes into a closeup, Vidya does what she does best.

Sherni is an out-and-out environmental thriller. At 2 hours and 11 minutes, the screenplay is taut although you wish it were not as unidimensional. And the fact that it draws so much from a real-life situation is scary and heartening at the same time. Scary because we know this has happened and might happen again. Heartening because we know that both in the case of Avni and T12, people who cared tried to help and ensured the two cubs were safe. Watch it.

Sherni is available on Amazon Prime.