Freedom

Ninety-Nine Times out of a Hundred

Sherni (2021) Film Review

“Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way.”

John Muir

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“Even in the dense jungle, the tigress knows her way.”
[Source – impawards.com
Poster design – True Blue Design Co.]

Aware about the scents, the dancing shades and the quiet breathing sounds of the jungle, the tigress moves knowing with certainty that the world is unpredictable.

Familiar with the idea of freedom and boundaries, she has learnt to cooperate.

For the tigress to become a man eater it would mean that either she crossed her boundary or a man crossed his and then if we shed light on their reasons, we will see some simple similarities and some dark differences.

Sherni is a brilliant 2021 film written by Aastha Tiku and directed by Amit V. Musurkar. Displaying the bare truth, in all its rude capriciousness and glory, the narrative builds a powerful unsolved puzzle for the viewers, unsolved but thoroughly engaging.

Through its veering route it takes the audience on a safari tour, one where we wish wholeheartedly to never get a glimpse of the tigress for the gunned men accompany us.

The film raises questions and leaves us with hints to, collectively, as a society, solve this puzzle and be aware about our roles.


Lady forest officer! Hoo-ha!
[Source – IMDB]

Vidya Vincent, the protagonist, is a newly appointed forest officer who challenges the status quo from the start just by working efficiently. The apathetic, insincere mood of her co-workers upsets her but doesn’t surprise her.

She tries to stay detached and work for work’s sake, but well aware about her job, about the bridge her department builds between the forest and the village, she never lets go of her sensibilities.  

In a bureaucratic leisure loving system, Vidya Vincent walks swiftly and cautiously; in protecting the wildlife, making the villagers aware, dodging the political never ending hoo-ha, she is reminded repeatedly that SHE is weak.

Vidya’s family loves her, but doesn’t fully understand her rather they emphasize the importance of their expectations, underlining insistently for her a daughter-in-law and wife’s responsibilities.

After two fatal attacks on villagers, a tigress is declared as a man-eater; and with elections approaching in that area, this hot topic is smartly used by the two challenging parties to manipulate the trampled villagers and the confused slow officers.

Protecting the composed jungle from the chaotic outer world, Vidya strategises the tigress’ safe return to the sanctuary.

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Rescuing wildlife after a short tea break.
[Source – IMDB]

Vidya Vincent, a Christian lady-forest-officer, is a wonderfully layered character; brave and bold but also vulnerable and at times helpless.

Her dilemmas and exigent actions unfold so realistically that even though we get attached to her and wish for her victory, we also see her with an objective lens; and so her struggles, efforts, decisions, plans, victories and failures come across as real.

She wins and loses at the same time in the end; surely the writer here wanted Vidya Vincent to pass on the flambeau to those who would come forward and continue the fight.


A fleeting glimpse…
[Source – IMDB]

Sherni, the adult female tigress, named T12 by the forest department, has given birth to two cubs and is trying to reach a safer place, away from human infiltration, deep inside the sanctuary. It is only through the villages and a mining site that she can reach the sanctuary.

Fierce and vigilant, the tigress doesn’t fall for the forest department’s ploy to catch her. She attacks the villagers who by chance wondered in her area and earns the cursed title of ‘man-eater’.

Protecting and feeding her cubs, the tigress gradually moves closer to the sanctuary.

But because she follows only the rules of the jungle and is illiterate about political chicanery, she misjudges the scent, shade and silence spread that night in the jungle and is shot first and tranquilized later for a hassle free report.

When the cubs dare to step out of the hiding, a few days later, they see a smiling Vidya Vincent staring at them with relief.


After spending generations in the vicinity of the jungle, the villagers inherit many of its qualities. Straightforward and simple yet considerate and calm, the villagers value life.

Though afraid of the big cat, only the villagers can survive as its neighbour.

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Hassan Noorani, Vidya’s team mate.
[Source – IMDB]

In the film Sherni too, the boundary shared by the villagers and the wildlife becomes the site of contention. Will the big cat let them survive?

The political parties promise them that they will survive, but only if they vote in their party’s favour, while Vidya Vincent tries to make them aware about the tigress’ behaviour, frequently visited trails and sole goal to reach the sanctuary.

And so some of the villagers support Vidya and end up securing, at least, the lives of the two cubs, whereas the others, who refuse to adapt, get dragged in the pompous parade of the powerful who for this occasion specially invite Pintu the hunter.

The film subtly highlights the essential role that the villagers neighbouring a jungle plays in safeguarding the wildlife. If their interests are also cared for, a harmonious bond could be formed between the two neighbours.


The corrupt and manipulative system that ensnares the boorish, ignorant and weak brings antagonism in the film. The one who doesn’t dare, one who prefers the herd, the guileful, timid and adjusting inadvertently support the dominant.

Vidya Vincent’s office employees and the villagers, who face daily life’s struggles, neither appreciate the new forest officer’s help nor do they agree with the political thugs wholly.

There are divided as a group and easy to control.

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Pintu bhaiya; “might is right when I am carrying a rifle”.
[Source – IMDB]

Vidya’s boss Bansal, who promotes and supports the men in power, doesn’t wince twice before switching sides; the present MLA, he who is contesting for the post of MLA, the supreme lords in the high ups, Pintu the hunter and his colleagues/ juniors are all his friends; he favours the favourable.

And so Bansal, the sly, the coward becomes the most dangerous creature here.

Pintu the hunter comes across as a stereotypical character unlike any other in the film; he brags from the get-go about how hunting animals is in his blood. His father killed so many tigers and he killed this many; arrogantly he guarantees all that the man-eater tigress will raise man-eater cubs, so the little ones should not be shown any mercy.

Pintu flaunts his rifle in the parade, promising the mad crowd that now it is Pintu VS Sherni and he only knows how to win.

Meanwhile Vidya and her ‘forest friends’ try hard to keep him misinformed and away from the tigress and her cubs. They achieve one of the set goals.


Hassan Noorani, a zoology professor, and his expertise is welcomed by Vidya. Well aware about the village political scene, Hassan always guides Vidya in the right direction.

Volunteering to help the newly appointed forest officer, we see in him another individual who is passionate about wildlife conservation.

Sympathetic and sensible, Hassan contributes greatly as Vidya’s team member, but fails to stand by her side till the end. And this makes him all the more a realistic character; when a lucrative job opportunity calls him to Mumbai, he decides to accept the offer.

On finding T12’s body, shouting out loud that this is a “pre-planned murder”, disgusted and helpless, he leaves.

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Jyoti and Vidya Vincent; they found the cubs.
[Source – IMDB]

Jyoti, a panchayat samiti member, is another ally who understands Vidya Vincent’s genuine efforts. She represents the few who acknowledges the link that must be built between the wildlife and villages surrounding it.

Daring enough to counter the politicians, she chooses not to go astray, rather step by step form a better relation with her wild neighbours.

Vidya Vincent’s little kitten, from the very beginning, shows what it means to survive in the “wild” outside the jungle. She adapts quickly, and later, so does Vidya.


“If you pass through the jungle 100 times, you may spot a tiger once but the tiger will have seen you 99 times,” says a forest official in the film. So even though we rarely get to see the tigress here, this game of hide and seek, nonetheless, allows us to feel her wonderfully strong presence.

Not a man eater, the tigress attacks either in self defence or to hunt her prey (a livestock animal); some of the forest officials do testify the same, but the tigress fails to present her case with valid proofs and is unjustly sentenced to death.

Then we run towards Vidya Vincent, hoping that she’ll avenge the tigress’ murder; and she tries her best, saves the cubs, and in return gets a transfer order.

Posted at a Museum of Natural History, she looks after the displayed stuffed animals; a glorious stuffed tiger also poses in one of the glass cages there.

Waiting and watching, patiently, we recognise Vidya’s dilemmas and helplessness, her actions taken silently against bigotry, her tears of joy and pain.

When there is no one left to run to, we realise we are on our own. It is our turn to act now. Sherni leaves us wondering.

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Glorious, always!
[Source – Pixabay]

The boundaries of a wildlife sanctuary, the walls of our painted homes cannot separate nature from nature.

It knocks on our windows every night when we leave the balcony light on; little insects, beautiful moths are only too determined to remind us of it.

And when we get a glimpse of the wild, maybe when on a safari, taking pictures of the baboons, hushing and shushing each other, dressed in khaki, hoping a show to unfold before our eyes, the tigress sees us from a distance and walks away.


Watch the trailer now


Sherni (2021)

Story and Screenplay by Aastha Tiku

Dialogues by Yashasvi Mishra and Amit V. Masurkar

Directed by Amit V. Masurkar

Cast

Vidya Balan as Vidya Vincent

Vijay Raaz as Hassan Noorani

Sampa Mandal as Jyoti

Brijendra Kala as Bansal

Sharat Saxena as Pintu


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Lovely

Poem
Fly my lovely!
[Image by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pixabay]

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Paper like fresh

Paper like crumpled

Paper like white

Paper like light

Isn’t it lovely to match,

To catch,

Freedom and its rhythm?

*

Paper like clouds

Paper like crumpled

Paper like white

Paper like light

Isn’t it lovely to breathe,

To read,

Freedom and its rhythm?

*

Paper like thoughts

Paper like crumpled

Paper like white

Paper like light

Isn’t it lovely to know,

To follow,

Freedom and its rhythm?

*

Paper like paths

Paper like crumpled

Paper like white

Paper like light

Isn’t it lovely to walk,

Towards

Freedom and its rhythm?

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Paper like you, me

Paper like crumpled

Paper like white

Paper like light

Isn’t it lovely to live,

Immersed in

Freedom and its rhythm?

Isn’t it lovely…?


Listen to Billie Eilish’s Lovely that inspired me to write this poem –


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Bach’s Seagull meets Shelley’s Skylark

Jonathan Livingston Seagull and his students.
Image from Pixabay.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull wanted to master the art of flying. Soaring up in the sky, above the white ocean of clouds, he felt truly free.

Though very unlikely of a seagull, Jonathan flew high ever so high, he practised and failed umpteenth times, but he never gave up.

An outcast, he lived alone and happily spent his time in his quest to achieve perfection.

On reaching a higher level of existence, he meets gulls like him who wanted to enhance their flying skills. It was not heaven for everyone there were learners.

Chiang, the guru of them all, teaches Jonathan how to let go of the concept of time and space so as to travel freely in the Universe.

“Begin by knowing that you have already arrived”, said Chiang.

Wondering if someone else, one who dares to question and take risks, needs guidance on Earth, he returns.

“Devil” for some and “angel” for others, Jonathan teaches a few eager ones. Practising, failing, practising again, Jonathan’s students rise above the Flock, the mundane.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull then continues his journey to guide other gulls who must have been waiting for him somewhere else in the Universe.

The fable. [Source – Wikipedia]

Richard Bach’s fable is soothingly clear, and thus, appears too simplistic to many. Just like flying looks simple only until we give it a try.

He equates perfection with freedom, emphasising on practising and a thirst for knowledge as the golden path to it; a path where you walk ahead passionately and not cumbersomely.

Every little bud in nature rises high, soaking in sun rays, moving towards it. Rising high, shedding the old self, stepping forward to explore the unknown, dwindling before making a firm stand is what life’s journey is all about.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, “a one-in-a-million bird”, if appears to be too perfect and his ideas if sound too far-fetching then you should look at your on-going journey and answer these questions – what are you looking for in life – perfection in some form or maybe a balance?

And what is balance if not a proportion of perfect this and perfect that?

Even better, you should meet Shelley’s Skylark.

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!

Bird thou never wert,

That from Heaven, or near it,

Pourest thy full heart

In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

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Higher still and higher

From the earth thou springest

Like a cloud of fire;

The blue deep thou wingest,

And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

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The invisible bird.
Image from Unsplash.

‘Blithe Spirit’ calls Percy Bysshe Shelley a Skylark that is soaring up in the sky (or Heaven, or near it), singing beautifully and gloriously that to him it is nothing but unprecedented ‘unpremeditated art’.

The Skylark, invisible to his eyes, has such power in its voice that the poet likens it to ‘a cloud of fire’.

Shelley beseeches the Skylark to teach him what it knows; a divine secret it must be for nothing on earth could outshine it. Joy so true, Shelley calls it ‘a star of Heaven’.

Nature’s bounty, the golden glow worms, the rainbows, the playful wind, a young maiden’s love and a poet’s grand verses, Shelley says the Skylark’s song, that flows in a ‘crystal stream’, is above them all.

What thou art we know not;

What is most like thee?

From rainbow clouds there flow not

Drops so bright to see

As from thy presence showers a rain of melody.

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Like a Poet hidden

In the light of thought,

Singing hymns unbidden,

Till the world is wrought

To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:

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Like a high-born maiden

In a palace-tower,

Soothing her love-laden

Soul in secret hour

With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower:

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Like a glow-worm golden

In a dell of dew,

Scattering unbeholden

Its aëreal hue

Among the flowers and grass, which screen it from the view:

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Like a rose embower’d

In its own green leaves,

By warm winds deflower’d,

Till the scent it gives

Makes faint with too much sweet those heavy-winged thieves:

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Sound of vernal showers

On the twinkling grass,

Rain-awaken’d flowers,

All that ever was

Joyous, and clear, and fresh, thy music doth surpass.

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Rain-awaken’d flowers.
Image from Pixabay.

The Skylark, above these mortal dilemmas, sings with pure love and delight. And in contrast we, humans, are locked in the past or the future.

We look before and after,

And pine for what is not:

Our sincerest laughter

With some pain is fraught;

Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

Shelley urges the Skylark to teach him just half of what it knows, this ‘harmonious madness’ so that he could capture it within and share it with the world.

The Skylark if not a gleaming reflection of perfection, then what is it? If its song is not a song of freedom, then why is the melody ‘a flood of rapture so divine’?

It must be that just like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the Skylark returned to Earth, to guide and share its knowledge, to remind the poet that ‘freedom is the very nature of his being’.

Unlike a miracle, both took time to convey what little they knew of the truth. The Seagull stays to make his students practice and the Skylark sings till the chosen one – the poet in this case – hears its joyous voice.  

Showing what doors can perseverance open and how patience leads to strength, the Seagull and the Skylark leave it up to the individual to unfold the story further.

Birth and death are timed then and a fully lived life, with all its imperfections, aims for a balance, for perfection that guides it to fly high and well.

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Fly high and well.
Image from Pixabay.

Read P. B Shelley’s full poem To a Skylark here.

Listen to the Jonathan Livingston Seagull’s audio book version here.


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Universe’s a Disciplined Place

Glowing pizzazz!
Image from Pixabay.

Golden, glowing and emitting exuberance, vigour and vibrancy, the dynamic, ceaseless dance of fire, the Sun has mastered the art of discipline.

It has attained absolute freedom for nothing else can explain the mystical, marvellous zeal it possesses and the pizzazz it flaunts so calmly, so brilliantly.

The Sun enthrals us wholly, it rules all life forms; in its magnificence, it conducts the solar system without a baton.  

147.19 Million kilometres away from the Sun I feel its warmth, I feel home, I feel alive.  

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Divine o divine!
Image from Pixabay.

Silver cascade shimmering the night sky, music to the waves and surreal beauty to the eyes, the Moon loves the art of discipline.

It may be difficult to believe for the Moon’s splendour defies time, it stupefies the clock, it follows the path of a dreamer, but how could this be possible if the Moon knew not discipline?

Think for yourself, it never fails to heal a sad heart and rejoice with a happy soul, it never leaves one alone, it moves with the one walking, it blinks at the dreamy one, it soars with the child allowing the little hands to embrace it.    

The Moon’s discipline is unique for it never minds the clouds, the rain, the darkness; it shines serenely, reigning in power and peace. Divine o divine!  

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Universe – a miracle.
Image from Pixabay.

What is this magic? This Universe, this miracle… it is disciplined to invite life, to hold the infinite, to make the ending light and the beginning bright.  

This Universe, it sings and plays rhythms that touch every element quiet and sentient both; it is a rainbow of colours that paints with accuracy and fun alike.  

The Universe runs the art of discipline, it gloriously celebrates the art of discipline, for what else are the galaxies going round and round, round and round… for why the invisible cells in a body are forming a life…  

The macro and the micro worlds imbibe the Universe’s joy and freedom, which is nothing but the art of discipline.


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