Human-animal conflict is increasing in our country with every passing year, because the forest land is being used by man for his purpose. Though it is a burning issue but surprisingly no one makes a film on this issue. Newton director Amit Masurkar has taken the initiative and raised this issue in his film Lioness which released this week. So does the lioness manage to enthrall and enlighten the audience? Or does it fail to impress? Let’s review.
Lioness is the story of a tough forest officer who intends to capture a tigress who has caused havoc in the place. Vidya Vincent (Vidya Balan) has joined the Bijaspur Forest Division as the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO). Her husband Pawan (Mukul Chadha) lives in Mumbai, while she lives alone in the quarters allotted by the forest department. She is not happy with the promotion and salary increase she has received in the last 9 years and wants to quit her job. But Pawan advises Vidya not to quit her job as her corporate job is unstable. One day Vidya learns that a tiger has been seen near a village. A few days later, the tiger kills a villager, which enrages the locals for the tigress. Through a camera trap, the forest officials come to know that a tigress named T12 is behind the villager’s murder. Elections are near and sitting MLA GK Singh (Amar Singh Parihar) makes it a political issue. He promises the residents of the village that he will kill the tigress and get them out of this trouble. On the other hand, PK Singh (Satyakam Anand) is a former MLA who wants to come back to power. He instigates people against GK Singh. In the midst of this madness, another villager dies when she goes to the forest to collect wood. GK Singh then invites Ranjan Rajhans aka Pintu (Sharat Saxena), a self-proclaimed conservationist but is actually a hunter. He wants to kill the tigress named T12 to satisfy his hunger for prey. Vidya, however, is not in favor of killing the animal. She advises the villagers to stay away from the forest. Using camera traps and tracking footprints, she attempts to locate T12, pacify her, and then drop her into a nearby national park. Time passes, and she wants to be successful in her mission before Pintu hunts the tigress, will Vidya succeed in her mission, what happens next will have to watch the entire film.
Aastha Tiku’s story is impressive. This issue keeps making headlines all the time but it is rare to see an entire movie dedicated to it. But Aastha Tiku’s script is dull and stretched out. The initial parts are interesting but after a while, the film feels repetitive. And the climax gives the biggest disappointment. Amit Masurkar and Yashasvi Mishra’s dialogues are simple and sharp. Some one-liners are unexpectedly fun and help maintain interest.
Amit Masurkar’s direction is average. It seems that he likes to shoot in the jungles. Newton was mainly set in the woods and so is the case with the lioness. Some scenes are handled exceptionally. Amit has neatly explained the role of a forest officer, the concept of a Van Mitra, how bureaucracy and government apathy can mess things up. On the other hand, he directs a film like a documentary. Apart from this, the run time of the film is 130 minutes. It is a bit long and ideally, the film should have been less than two hours. Some scenes are incomprehensible and we repeatedly get to see the forest officials and others searching for the tigress. These scenes are going to test the patience of the audience. Apart from this, the ending of the film is disappointing and shocking. Some questions remain unanswered and this leaves the audience confused as to what actually happened. Lastly, Vidya Vincent’s character is not that impressive.
The introduction of the lioness begins in a monotonous manner. Opening credits are shown on black screen that too without music. From here it is known that this film is for a select audience. The starting parts are going to be fastened. The opening parts are engaging, introducing the audience to Vidya Vincent, her job, the hunt for the tigress, etc. The laugh element also works well. The first two scenes in the first hour are spectacular. In the second half it seems that something bang will happen, but alas nothing like this happens. The makers don’t handle the climax well and the film ends on an unfair and pathetic note.
As expected, Vidya Balan gets into her character perfectly and delivers yet another commendable performance. She plays her character so well that no one can remember her previous acting. But his character was not presented well. Vidya’s character is such that she does not raise her voice against injustice and just watches as a mute spectator. Although it is expected that she will do something in the future but the makers do not present her character well and thus she loses her shine. Sharat Saxena is given credit immediately after Vidya in the opening credits and this is because he has a significant part. He looks great as a passionate hunter who can go to any extent to achieve his goal. Vijay Raj doesn’t laugh but still, he is very impressive. Neeraj Kabi (Nangiya) has a scintillating on-screen presence. Sadly, his character’s confusing actions also seem unconvincing. Mukul Chaddha is decent while Brijendra Kala is trustworthy. Anoop Trivedi (Pyare Lal) is funny and a great find. Satyakam Anand makes a big mark while Amar Singh Parihar does well. Gopal Dutt (Saiprasad) is devastated. Ila Arun (Pawan’s mother) is fine; His track really adds to the length of the film. Suma Mukundan (Vidya’s mother) and Nidhi Dewan (Reshma; Hassan’s wife) don’t get much scope. Sampa Mandal (as a spirited villager Jyoti) is very good.
The music of Bandish project is bad. The only song in the film is ‘Bandar Baant’. It plays in the background and fits well into the story of the film. Benedict Taylor and Naren Chandavarkar’s background score is minimal and impressive. The cinematography by Rakesh Haridas is superb and the jungle scenes in particular are captured very well. Devika Dave’s production design is excellent. The costumes of Manoshi Nath, Rushi Sharma and Bhagyashree Rajurkar are non-glamorous as the script demands. The VFX of FutureWorks and The Circus is great in the tiger scenes. But this is unrealistic in the bear sequence. Dipika Kalra’s editing is not good. The film should have been shorter.
Overall, Sherni is an interesting story and a stellar performance by Vidya Balan. But the slow pace and narration of the documentary style, the length of the film and the shocking climax spoil the effect of the film.