Our last brush with Vidya Balan was the joyful 'Shakuntala Devi' (2020), where she played the gregarious math genius with aplomb. Almost a year on, the exuberance has been replaced with an air of reticence, the teasing tone, by measured words, as Balan transforms into Vidya Vincent, the quiet forest officer in 'Sherni'. For the actor, the world of the Amit Masurkar-directed film comes as a breath of fresh air.
“Playing a forest officer was refreshing because it’s a world I am not familiar with. My interaction with this world [was through] a few safaris, and watching Animal Planet and NatGeo,” she shares. The more she read up on forest officers, the more she understood the demanding nature of the job. “I met a few forest officers to understand what their job entails. It was an eye-opener. They have to undergo an intense three-year course before they make the cut. When one gets a wildlife posting, they are cut off from civilisation, living in a parallel reality and are most probably away from their families. The job can be physically arduous and dangerous at times, so [the field] was traditionally male-dominated. But the women officers shared how they negotiated their way around the patriarchal mindset.”
While the Amazon Prime Video offering puts the focus squarely on the man-animal conflict, it also studies how a woman has to fight harder to survive in what is considered a male domain. “I like that Vidya Vincent is a woman of few words and yet has the courage to stand up for what she believes in. You don’t have to be aggressive or be a man in a man’s world; you can be a woman and still find your way.”
The drama was largely shot in Balaghat, Madhya Pradesh. Filming in the dense jungles was an experience of a lifetime for Balan. “I have been on safaris in the past, but the wild would always intimidate me. But this time around, I stayed in a tent, which was fun. I would go for long walks in the summer when it was safe. It was heartening to see how the unit was conscious not to litter around as we were shooting in a forest.”