Eye of the tiger! There can be one way to encapsulate that complex statement, that is to use it literally in terms of visual representation in humans. Such as the iconic image of the Afghan girl with ‘eyes of the tiger’, from the historic archives of National Geographic. Unfortunately, her real life belies the connotation of a fierce spirit as imprisoned she had been then under patriarchal, conservative decrees in a traditional society and continues to be perhaps. The language of the eyes, hence, sometimes is not really consonant with an idea of freedom. It’s all determined by our situations in life.
Vidya Balan starrer SHERNI is one such favourable study of human behaviour in all its elemental authenticity just like the jungles that sorround them. Here, the ruab(dignity and earnestness) on the face of Vidya Vincent is an extension of her line of work, her commitment towards tiger conservation and by turn environmental protection of the ecosystem that exists in a vacuum for others.
That’s because in the annals of Indian cinema, she is a rare phenomenon: a forest officer who is inured within the typical red tapism and bureaucratic web affixed with a government job. Soul sapping convention doesn’t let go even outside perimeters of urban human population. Her zeal to ensure that an alleged man-eating tigress and her cubs are shielded from the prowl of old-time hunters and political propagandas is as much quietly revolutionary and feminist as it is an illustration of her position, as a strong voice of reason in male dominated preserves.
Amit V. Masurkar employs a subtle, quiet tone in a screenplay full of verisimilitude regarding groundwork within the forest. This authentic eye for detail extends itself to concerns regarding nomadic locals’ struggles to survive within an already diminishing social set-up as cattle owners, especially when the fear of the tigress attacking them is supreme. Or in the way human settlements encroaching upon the jungle has invited an uneasy and difficult turf war between inhabitants of both even though flesh and blood mortals think they can control the ‘beasts’; even the proximity of mines in the forested area informs us of the effects of unhealthy human initiatives at the cost of natural resources.
The law of nature entails a complex nucleus for survival and Vidya is at the center of her genuine efforts at conservation and following a sense of duty beyond mere lip-service. She has a dedicated team here of forest officials that take her lead.
There’s no direct use of symbolism or even an effort to make it on the nose. She is an honest professional who is here to make a difference without drawing attention to it. The film stays grounded due to that approach. Though her progress is constantly stymied by the likes of her senior(Brijendra Kala), a typical government head, a reputed forest official(Neeraj Kabi) who is not as committed to his mission anymore as he claims while a so called ‘hunting expert'( Sharat Saxena) and a political head( Satyakam Anand) have their own unruly agendas that have no place in this pristine world that Vidya envisions. Her frustrations hence are earned, a facet handled here in such a way that every government employee will identify with the depictions.
On the other hand, Vijay Raaz and Sampa Mandal play sensible individuals committed to bring her vision to fruition with their logical wisdom, showing an awakening on the part of common folk as against the wheeler-dealers in positions of power.
SHERNI uses the reality of workplace sexism twice as when Vidya is called a ‘lady officer’ by another man who ironically claims that he respects her or when she is asked by her family members to dress up more for a dinner and also sometimes prefer to wear atleast some semblance of her marital status like a mangalsutra. Nothing overtly delivered but Vidya’s reality is conveyed to us in a striking manner. The circular functioning of this posting, where transfers are brought on by ideological differences with the ‘top brass’, is also conveyed towards the end where Vidya is hailed as a ‘superman’ by her former staff just like they did for her preceding officer in the beginning.
This is a wonderful addition to the evolving canon of our New Wave minds. For someone who has grown up watching documentaries on wildlife on Discovery and National Geographic, serenaded by its tales by my father who has spent formative years in that fascinating environment owing to his father’s Geological Survey of India postings and the conservation efforts and photography of Valmik Thapar, this was a rare opportunity and it earns its stripes.
It also makes a subtle pitch for making room for more female boots on the ground in terms of forest conservation.
To sum up the essence of the stories encircling the emotional toll in this Australian limited series, I share my own poem DEATH AT THE BEACH that was a sombre meditation on the migrant crisis of our current era. I had published it here almost a year and a half ago and I think it’s pivotal to sift the reality of those situations we are horrified by, from the actual experiences of those who leave their contentious homelands behind to be stranded in a space that imprisons them further.
We live in a world where children are the most vulnerable in an amphitheater of hate and terror. Hence these lines from me.
DEATH AT THE BEACH
There lies the beach,
with its monthly sand sculpture made by amateur fingertips
and grainy facepacks for toddlers screaming, ‘Mummy, look, it’s me’
The beach, always deep yellow and intensely brown with the day’s shade ,
was for a while also migrants’ transit parlour,
in which we all wore a different skin,
a mortal one
and received them for asylum, rest, compassion and peacetime summits,
mingling parenthood with the children’s just demands for playtime and assorted lunch breaks.
A Passage By Sea, today, is still born
as the boy from his ancestral Mediterranean village lies face down in the sand,
by the sea,
sunk, as of this date, into a Photo of the Year felicitation.
Last seen in a foetal position with head down.
His is a grim seafaring spirit,
birthed in a foreign tongue,
mother’s agonies and tearful kisses
and the father’s slurred speech and disbelief,
grim in the face of his watery graveyard here.
The Child In The Water.
Seances of futile hope,
orchestrated by the Mediterranean for incoming boats and drifting birthdays.
For child is the father of man,
His mother’s river of despair
and to a far away Head of State,
a veritable State of the Union appendage,
a book’s liner note and for memory’s sake, a dried fig of a bookmark and endnote,
lost to the seagull’s traveling routes.
At the beach,
we chant, ‘absolve me of our sins’,
sand in our hands,
hardly praying and almost hopeless.
For our children have despaired and we are distant eye witnesses.
STATELESS is, to me, about parents and children bound and separated by this passage to the better world. The most poignant being Ameer(Fayssal Bazzi) and his daughter Mina’s(Soraya Heidari) reunion after losing two of their other family members to the sea or Javad( Phoenix Raei) attempting, tooth and nail, to get back to his wife and two young kids. Helana Sawires and Yvonne Strahovski, on the other hand, play two women, namely Rosna and Sofie, who yearn to seek freedom after suffering physical indignities within their own spheres, the former bringing her share of fierceness and pathos as a Kurdish woman who has seen and endured the worst.
The latter, however, is the only Australian native whose fragmenting mental health and flight from a suffocating family bring her to the detention center, smack in the middle of this setting where the personal becomes political for all migrants awaiting citizenship Down Under. The aspect that matches the intensity of these lives is the desert heat and dusty landscape, making it a literal No Man’s Land.
It’s an important series because it tells how one’s own home and by extension homeland becomes a mortal enemy when humanity is compromised by dint of unseemly social diktats. It’s brutally honest about its own national policies and the inadequacies associated with immigration because it draws from a whole catalogue of real-life cases.
Asher Keddie and Jai Courtney also add layers of humanity as members working within the system and ground down by its pressures and everyday struggles.
In the end, an image of Mina watching sea waves reminds us of not only the passage by sea that so many migrants undertake, sometimes to no avail, but of the vast possibilities for humanity that a broken society nips in the bud. After all, Sofie, despite being a 30 plus year old woman, is essentially a child who never received love or appreciation from her cold parents and that transitioning of emptiness to adulthood brought her doom. That’s the impact that these intersecting tales invite. STATELESS is, hence, a must watch for its pertinence and is personally invested in the minds of most of its actors who make up the diverse fabric of their native country now. That journey through trauma is never forgotten here.
The eclipse of the title reflects in a tale sculpted out of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots that rocked India and haunts its conscience.
Like STATELESS, it doesn’t resort to gratituous violence or storytelling excess, focusing instead on the socio-political urgency and emotional depth of the issues that tail multiple generations. Of course, its dealing with the revelation of a key player ( Pawan Malhotra) as regards his identity as a rioter/ victim simultaneously falls in a morally complex area, making us question the lines between right and wrong. A past always shapes our present and, in turn, our future.
That’s the haunting takeaway from this impactful miniseries that puts Zoya Hussain in a morally precarious position, as a police officer Amrita Singh investigating the pogrom and finding her father landing in its crosshairs. Like STATELESS, it is also about the burdens of political propagandas carried by parents and children. The final stretch of episodes is riveting, given its unfolding layers of truth and political players peddling rumours then and now to stoke communal tempers.
The common man always suffers owing to that poison ivy growing with each era. GRAHAN recognizes that.