Sherdil: The Pilibhit Saga
Director: Srijit Mukherjee
Cast: Pankaj Tripathi, Neeraj Kabi, Sayani Gupta
Srijit Mukherjee’s Sherdil: The Pilibhit Saga is inspired by true events. The issue at hand is tragic. The poor villagers don’t have enough funds or rations to feed themselves. Drought, deforestation, and floods have added to their worries. The government fails to do anything for them. The village’s chief Gangaram (Pankaj Tripathi) comes to know of a Sarkari scheme under which if a villager is killed because of a tiger’s attack, his family would be compensated with 10 lakh rupees.
Gangaram has always dreamt of becoming a political leader. He is a Bhang addict. This addiction is used to suspend our disbelief about the actions Gangaram will take as he tries to get killed by the tiger. He gives examples of great freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh to justify his sacrifice of life. But the difference between him and Bhagat Singh as his wife reasons, Gangaram has a family of a wife and two sons to look after.
But Gangaram gives a lot of ‘churan’ to his wife, mother, and the villagers to convince them that he is the right person to sacrifice his life and how they should find his mortal remains after the tiger has attacked him. And makes sure that all government procedures are followed so that the village gets the 10 lakh rupees from the scheme.
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The issue is poignant. The film is unfortunately a rambling trail that just keeps going on and on, giving us gyaan on class, religion, heaven & hell, and much more. A man alone in the wild surely allows for soliloquies and there are some fine lines of social commentary in the film. But it doesn’t just add up for a greater effect. By the time Tripathi Ji delivers a heartfelt monologue in the climax, it’s too late.
The main issue with this film is its lead – a saturated Pankaj Tripathi. Tripathi has made a name and place for himself and enjoys a fan following among the classes as well as the masses. In almost all of his films or series, he has played a man from the Indian heartland. Lately, the actor’s performances are becoming repetitive. Sure, we as an audience are not new to repetitions or actors hamming it film after film. We have worshipped superstars for simply being themselves on screen irrespective of what character they were playing.
But you can expect better only from a good actor. Tripathi has an inherent likeability in his personality off-screen that also reflects on-screen. He walked away with claps even in a small role as a travel agent in Irrfan’s last film Angrezi Medium. But here, he’s simply too fatigued/saturated to put life into the character.
The film is set in a jungle. So, the atmospherics must add to the overall experience of the movie. The jungle portions are captured well. But the interiors of the village and Gangaram’s house look artificial. The poverty-ridden houses are well maintained and that’s what breaks your connection with their world and problems.
An otherwise reliable Sayani Gupta as Gangaram’s wife Lajjo is theatrical. Neeraj Kabi’s forest officer gone rogue Jim Ahmed with his unkempt braids wig does infuse some curiosity upon arrival. But soon you can guess the fate of his part. There is some good social commentary initially in the film but too much of it throughout makes it preachy. Shantanu Moitra’s music tries to add some life to the narrative but it can only do so much.
Writer-director Srijit Mukherjee is trying to address a very important issue here. But most of the film’s time is wasted on Gangaram rambling and flashbacks to tell us how he reached where he reached. My only hope after watching this film is that Tripathi Ji gets his groove back and reinvents himself.
Originally published at cineblitz.in