Disclaimer: The following post contains spoilers from the film Sherni.
Amit V. Masurkar's Sherni, starring Vidya Balan in the lead role as IFS officer Vidya Vincent, is a brilliant thriller, apparently inspired by the real-life story of Tigress Avni.
While the hunt for the man-eating tigress might form the central storyline, the film actually brings out the widespread misogyny and patriarchy that afflicts our society with brilliant moments like these:
1. When a politician clearly states that he respects Vidya because of her gender, not her position.
A man-eating tiger attacks and kills a villager and the leader of the local opposition provokes villagers to not allow IFS officers to analyze and investigate the kill.
When Vidya reminds him to not obstruct the investigation, he is quick to demean her position while simultaneously respecting her gender.
This is sexist gaslighting at its peak, where a woman is doubted for her skills, simply because of her gender.
2. When Vidya is silently judged by the bartender for ordering whiskey.
Because it's 2021 but drinks are still "gendered".
3. When Vidya has to field her mother and mother-in-law's incessant questions about bearing children.
As soon as Vidya's mother and mother-in-law arrive, they begin barraging her about having children. But her husband is never at the receiving end of these remarks.
4. When Vidya is expected to dress up for a dinner, whereas her husband's casual attire is acceptable.
Vidya's mother-in-law asks her to wear jewelry when going for dinner so that it is evident that her 'bahu' (daughter-in-law) is coming for the dinner, even though Vidya's husband is dressed casually.
5. When, despite Vidya being a trained forest officer, Vidya's mother-in-law asks her son to accompany her for protection.
Vidya has to leave to inspect an incident in the forest, late at night. And though she will be accompanied by officers, and is a trained IFS officer herself, her husband Pawan is asked to accompany her - an offer she politely but firmly refuses.
Because she and her team, are more equipped to handle any situation that may occur than her husband, who works in a completely different field.
6. When Vidya passes a sarcastic remark over a hunter's tall (and illogical) claims, she is the one who is asked to not take the situation lightly.
Vidya questions the hunter-on-hire about his plans to capture the man-eating tigress, but he has no adequate response.
And yet, she is the one admonished for her remarks.
7. When a tranquilizer expert questions the hunter's knowledge of animal droppings, he shuts her down simply by citing his 'years of experience'.
In fact, he repeats this same practice when a forest guard stops him from shooting at a tiger, who the hunter mistakenly presumes to be the man-eating tigress.
This is a prime example of entitlement and ego making it impossible for men to women seriously, no matter their position or expertise.
8. When Vidya's boss constantly brushes aside her explanations and concerns but immediately accepts them when a male colleague puts them forward.
Throughout the film, Vidya's boss, Mr. Bansal often disregards her suggestions.
However, when Mr. Noorani, a Zoology professor and animal lover working with the forest department, makes the same suggestion, Mr. Bansal is quick to agree.
This inherent gender bias may not be immediately evident always, but sadly, is prevalent across most professional workspaces.
9. When Vidya lays down the facts of the case, both her senior officer, and the minister-in-charge, brush aside her remarks.
There are various instances in the film that show that officers, who know their job (unlike the hunter-on-hire and Vidya's boss) don't shy away from taking orders from a female officer, and respect their colleagues equally, irrespective of their gender.
But people in authority positions seem to have missed the memo of gender equality - in the film, and sadly, also in real life.
All images are screenshots from the movie, currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.