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Sherdil: The Pilibhit Saga review – Pankaj Tripathi leads this interesting satire

Release Date: 24 Jun 2022 / Rated: U/A / 02hr 00min

Cinestaan Rating

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Sonal Pandya

The dark comedy, written and directed by Srijit Mukerji, looks at the growing man-animal conflict in rural India and focuses on how one village leader decides to tackle it.

The head of Jhundao village, Gangaram (Pankaj Tripathi), is at his wit’s end. The village sits on the edge of a tiger reserve and animals routinely destroy the villagers' crops. Many have migrated to the city, some have died of hunger. No government scheme provides them monetary aid either.

When Gangaram spies a poster in a government office promising Rs10 lakh as compensation to anyone mauled fatally by a tiger while in the fields, a plan begins to form in his mind. The naive but noble sarpanch is genuinely concerned about his constituents and nominates himself to save them.

Going against the wishes of his wife Lajjo (Sayani Gupta) and his family, Gangaram tells the villagers what do after he is gone to claim the reward.

But the straightforward scheme becomes more complicated the longer he spends time in the jungle without encountering a tiger. Instead, he befriends a peculiar dreadlocked poacher named Jim Ahmed (Neeraj Kabi), who spouts existential theories about life and helps him navigate the unfamiliar terrain.

Sherdil: The Pilibhit Saga, written and directed by Srijit Mukerji, aims to highlight the plight of the poor, especially when it comes to the man-versus-animal conflict. But the two-hour film revs up only in portions. It spends a lot of time in the jungle where the film mostly follows Gangaram aimlessly trying to find the feared feline.

The satire works mainly because of its lead character, who is perfectly cast as the do-good leader. Tripathi excels in characters like these, playing the good guy we all root for. While Kabi and Gupta perform well in their parts, the film belongs to Tripathi’s Gangaram. The amiable actor has a way of delivering his lines that is instantly charming.

This is especially evident in the scenes involving Gangaram and Jim where they discuss their predicaments, amongst other mysteries of life. Once the film moves on to the meta aspects of the aftermath of Gangaram’s jungle adventure, the narrative moves too swiftly. Trimming down the middle portion of his sojourn could have allowed this portion to be developed better.

The feature also uses sound design in an interesting manner, taking the ambient noises of the jungle and superimposing them at key moments of Gangaram’s life. Tiyash Sen’s camera takes us right alongside the action, showing the beauty of the reserve. However, the main interaction between man and animal left me more than a little underwhelmed.

The score by Shantanu Moitra is apt for the film and Sherdil opens with a dedication to the late singer KK who has one song on the soundtrack. The earworm 'Aadmi Bhutiya Hai' by Raghir is especially catchy.

Mukherji has crafted a well-intentioned tale, based on incidents that occurred at the Pilibhit reserve in Uttar Pradesh in 2017, where villagers were accused of staging deaths to receive compensation. But there are certain lags in the storytelling that just feel off, especially framing it around the forest officer who doesn’t quite connect in the role.

Sherdil: The Pilibhit Saga is an interesting satire that just needed more bite. I’ll definitely be thinking of that ending for a while though.


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