The actor has made a career out of playing strong, fiercely independent women in popular mainstream films such as “The Dirty Picture” (2011), where she played a B movie star; “Kahaani” (2012), where her heavily pregnant character is in solo quest of her missing husband; and “Tumhari Sulu” (2017), where she plays a housewife turned radio jockey.
In “Sherni,” Balan plays an upright forest officer who attempts to track down a disturbed tigress while battling patriarchal society and lackadaisical attitudes within her department. The film is directed by Amit Masurkar, whose previous film “Newton” (2017), a satire on the electoral process, was India’s entry for the Oscars.
“I thought it was quite interesting that someone wanted to make a mainstream film set in the jungle that explores the man-animal conflict, talks about the environment and also patriarchy,” Balan tells Variety. Balan finds the work of Masurkar, one of the better satirists working in India today, unusual, and thought it would be an interesting project.
The actor says she is naturally attracted to films that challenge the status quo. “I think I am, as are most women around me, constantly challenging patriarchy, and the patriarchal mindset and the patriarchal dogmas,” says Balan. “So I think that gets reflected in the scripts that get offered to me and I veer towards them. It’s like a moth to a flame…I don’t know whether they choose me, or I choose them, but I think we definitely move towards each other.”
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India was in lockdown in 2020 when Balan’s last film “Shakuntala Devi,” a biopic of the celebrated Indian mathematician known as ‘The Human Computer,’ was ready for release, and debuted directly on Amazon as cinemas were closed. “Sherni” will also bow directly on Amazon, on June 18, as India is slowly recovering from a deadly second wave of the pandemic and cinemas remain shut.
In a society which is partial to male stars, Balan is one of the few women who can open a film theatrically on her own. The actor describes the hustle and bustle of a theatrical release as “a different kind of excitement.”
“But, there’s also a lot of pressure,” says Balan. “On ‘Shakuntala’ I realized that I didn’t feel that pressure.”
“And, while I love the theatrical experience, what excites me about Prime Video is that the film is going to reach people across 240 countries,” says Balan. “That kind of reach is unimaginable. It’s going to open up fresh audiences for us in different pockets of the world.”
Meanwhile, the actor has had her first vaccine jab and is itching to get back to work with three films lined up.
“Sherni,” produced by Bhushan Kumar for T-Series and Vikram Malhotra for Abundantia Entertainment, was shot in a forest bio-bubble during a brief respite during the pandemic in 2020, with no positive cases.