A scene in Srijit Mukerji's Sherdil has Pankaj Tripathi's character Gangaram telling a villager, "Hum dono hain; nidarr bhi aur leader bhi." Interestingly, in a similar way, the actor carries the entire film on his sturdy shoulders fearlessly even when the script fails to do justice to the intriguing concept.
What's Yay: Pankaj Tripathi
What's Nay: Screenplay, Direction
Gangaram (Pankaj Tripathi), the Sarpanch of a remote hamlet called Jhundao visits a government office in order to solve his village's grievances which include death due to starvation and wild animals attacking their farmlands. The man who is ignorant about 'antarjaal' (internet) gets told, "Scheme joh hai woh bhandare ka prasad hain kya drawer khola, aap ke haath mein dhar diya aur bola jai mata di." As a dejected Gangaram walks out of the room, his eyes fall on an announcement pinned on the notice board.
An idea strikes him when he learns that if a man falls victim to a tiger near a tiger reserve, his family is compensated with an amount of Rs 10 Lakh. Later, Gangaram also announces to his family that he is suffering from an advanced stage of cancer and has just three months to live.
Gangaram decides not to let his death go to waste and plans to become the tiger's meal in the jungle so that his village can claim the compensation for his demise. His wife Lajjo (Sayani Gupta) who is initially reluctant about his 'sacrifice' eventually gives in.
Finally, Gangaram steps into the forest with the hope of getting eaten by a tiger. There, he even comes across a poacher Jim Ahmad (Neeraj Kabi), and the duo strike a bizarre deal. What follows next is a series of incidents that put forward some thought-provoking questions before the audience.
Inspired by true events which took place in Pilibhit Tiger Reserve in UP near the Indo-Nepal border, Srijit Mukherji's Sherdil is a solid idea on paper. However, the filmmaker fails to translate it on screen in an engaging way. The screenplay lacks a grip and relies majorly on Pankaj Tripathi's signature style of dialogue delivery. The latter's Gangaram engages in some 'reflective' conversations with Neeraj Kabi's character. A couple of them are engrossing; others borderline absurdity.
Further, the sluggish-paced first half is yawn-inducing barring a few moments. Things pick up a pace with the entry of Neeraj Kabi's Jim Ahmad. However, there is very little to rescue. Like Gangaram, you too find yourself asking, "Sher kaha hain?"
Pankaj Tripathi is the only reason why your eyes stay glued to the screen despite the weak execution. He lends a certain gullibility to his character which makes you root for him. At the same time, with equal ease, he also makes you laugh with his one-liners. Neeraj Kabi with his outlandish wig delivers out of what is offered to him. The teaming up of these two stellar actors definitely deserved a better script!
Sayani Gupta barely gets any memorable scenes. Pankaj Tripathi's wife Mridula also makes a blink-and-miss appearance.
One of the plus points of Sherdil is Tiyash Sen's brillant cinematography which brings the lush green forests of North Bengal to life on celluloid. Shantanu Moitra keeps the background score as authentic as possible except a few places where it gets a tad loud. Pronoy Dasgupta's editing scissors could have easily chopped off some portions from the film to make the narrative taut.
The four songs, 'Dhoop Paani Bahne De', 'Moko Kahan', 'Maya Chhaliya Roop Dhare' and 'Aadmi Bhutiya Hai' are a part of the storytelling. Despite being engrossing to the ears, some of its charm weans off due to unimaginative visuals.
"Kismat kabhi kabhi saadharan aadmi ko bhi asaadharan bana deta hain," goes a man's voiceover as Srijit Mukerji introduces us to his world of 'Sherdil'. Sadly, the filmmaker's weak execution of an extraordinary concept fails to pique your interest in a similar way like how the tiger acts when it finally comes face-to-face with Gangaram.
We give 2.5 stars out of 5 to Pankaj Tripathi-Neeraj Kabi starrer Sherdil: The Pilibhit Saga.