Directed by Amit V. Masurkar (‘Newton’), ‘Sherni is a poignant Indian drama film about Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Vidya Vincent (Vidya Balan), who has been recently appointed to her post in the jungles of Madhya Pradesh, India. After a female tiger, codenamed T12, comes into contact with the local villagers, the inevitable human-animal conflict ensues, and two people are killed. As a result, the issue gets muddled by the involvement of the politicians.
Now, Vidya must race against time to relocate the tigress and the two cubs she has just given birth to a national park before more people are killed or the tigress and the cubs are put down. If ‘Sherni’s candid portrayal of the human-animal conflict and the pandemonium that happens around it have made you wonder whether the film is based on real-life events, we got you covered.
Is Sherni Based on a True Story?
No, ‘Sherni’ is not based on a true story. The film’s opening credits state that it’s a work of fiction, and no information contradicting that has been revealed by any of the cast and crew members. However, the narrative seems to have been significantly inspired by the incident involving the T1 tigress or Avni in the Pandharkawada-Ralegaon forests of Yavatmal district, Maharashtra. Starting from 2016, Avni allegedly killed and/or ate 13 to 14 people until a marksman shot her down following a 10-month-long hunt in early November 2018.
At the time of her death, Avni was around 6-years-old and had two cubs. The officials claimed that the tigress came for the team that was out to tranquilize her, and they were forced to shoot her to protect themselves. One of Avni’s cubs was later found by forest beat guard Sidam Pramila Istari, who was awarded along with 6 others by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) for her work. The hunt for Avni itself was a grand affair that involved more than 200 people, over 100 camera traps, elephants, expert trackers, motorized paragliders, hunting dogs, and even drones.
One of the biggest challenges facing the conservation efforts in India is the increasing number of human-animal conflicts due to deforestation and the loss of habitats. This is ironically connected to the success of the said efforts, as the increasing number of big cats does entail more animal encounters. In Sundarbans, the mangrove forest located in the southern part of the Indian state of West Bengal and Bangladesh, deaths due to tiger attacks reportedly number somewhere between 0 and 50 every year.
The scientists seem to have failed to provide a concrete theory as to why the tigers of Sundarbans are so aggressive. However, they do offer certain hypotheses such as tigers drinking salty water due to the land’s geography, destruction of territory markers due to tides, and difficulty in hunting prey animals again due to geographical constraints as the reasons for this peculiar behavior.
In the vicinity of Jim Corbett National Park, a tigress reportedly took the lives of 7 people between December 2013 and February 2014. The tigress’ frequent sightings in the Bijnor and Moradabad regions of Uttar Pradesh garnered her the nickname “the Man-eater of Moradabad.” To find this animal, a large hunt was launched as well. However, unlike what happened in Yavatmal, this one was ultimately unsuccessful. By August that year, the tiger was reportedly not going after humans any longer.
Beyond offering a realistic look at the conservation effort in India, the close-to-reality forest-thriller film shines a much-needed spotlight on what women government officials endure every day just for doing their jobs. In a country where patriarchy has become an inherent part of the institution, Vidya Vincent was always meant to fight an uphill battle. So, it may appear that ‘Sherni’ is based on true events, but it’s actually a work of fiction.
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