Sherni, starring Vidya Balan in the lead role, lands online on Friday, June 18. Director Amir Masurkar talked to Hindustan Times to share details about his vision behind the film, the struggles he faced while making it, and more.
Director Amit Masurkar said that Vidya Balan was the first one to be approached for her role in Sherni. “Vidya was the first actor we shared the story with and she came on board immediately. The forest department has a lot of women in various positions- as forest guards, as officers, as office staff. Vidya is willing to put in effort required to blend seamlessly in any setting.”
He added, “Sharat Saxena was the second actor we cast. I’ve watched him on screen since childhood and wanted to cast him for years. Neeraj Kabi is another actor and teacher I respect and was on the wish list. Brijendra Kala’s role was written with him in mind without even checking if he would do the film. Vijay Raaz was the surprise casting- he is playing a college professor and conservationist and I’d never seen him play a part like this one. wanted to work with and was suggested by the producers. There’s also a large pool of locals, forest officials and guards in the film.”
The filmmaker, who started his journey with Sulemani Keeda, also said that most of what you get to watch in Sherni, was exactly how it was written in the script. “The actors were all very professional. Everything you see on screen was written, except a couple of scenes involving the real forest guards, which were spontaneous and based on their experiences. The character of Vidya is someone who’s not happy in her personal and professional life and is disillusioned with the way things have turned out for her. But she’s also a Divisional Forest Officer—and so in a position of power and deep inside, she wants to make a difference.”
“Aastha (Aastha Tikku, writer of Sherni) worked hard to make sure each character had their own motivations, faults, desires, fears and drive. We did table readings with actors to make sure they understood their characters. Some scenes were rehearsed in advance , he added.
Amit’s previous film, Newton, and Sherni, are both set amid the jungles of Madhya Pradesh. Asked about the similarity, Amit said, “The setting was pure coincidence. 90% of Newton was set over one day and seen from the point of view of one character. Sherni, on the other hand, is a more complex narrative set over a few weeks, with an ensemble of actors and various perspectives. The theme of both films is different. Newton was about democracy whereas Sherni is about conservation and cooperation.”
In the film, Vidya meets a cat who is named Tuffy. However, Amit insisted it has nothing to do with Salman Khan’s dog in Hum Aapke Hain Koun. “This one (in Sherni) was ‘Toughie’ (the tough one),” he said.
He also elaborated on the struggles he faced while working on the film. “The film was written in 2019 and we began pre-production in December. We shot a third of the film near Bhopal in March 2020. Once we realized the gravity of the situation, and before the lockdown was announced, we dropped everything midway and hastened to our respective homes. When we regrouped in October 2020, there was strict Covid protocols in place. The producers took care to make sure that we lived and worked in a bio bubble. Since we were mostly shooting in the forest, we were away from crowds and safe. We wore PPE suits and face-shields during indoor scenes since the actors were unmasked during takes. It was tough to work like that but what mattered was our safety.”
He added that there was no Covid-19 case for the film’s crew. “The cast and crew worked after months of lockdown and so everyone was focussed and warm. We soon became close knit as we had chosen to not visit crowded or public places and stayed mostly in the hotel when not on set. Due to these measures, we had zero Covid cases.”
Given the volatile times that we live in, can one make a film without being apprehensive about a backlash? Despite his film highlighting various accomplices in the crimes against wildlife, Amit said he does not expect any backlash. “Without revealing much about the story, I would like to say whatever we have shown is based on patterns that emerged from the various case studies that were analyzed by the screenwriter with the help of subject experts. There should be no backlash as we have fictionalized the story and characters. I would ask the audience to look at the big picture and the big ideas that are emerging from the film.”
Asked about working with actors like Rajkummar and Vidya, he said, “Both are grounded and hard working actors who like to focus on their work. They are open to pushing themselves to play complex parts that are not easy to play. There are more similarities than differences between the two.”