Poacher Review: Hard Truths, Hard-Hitting Storytelling

Poacher neither minces words in condemning these self-seeking slaughterers nor leaves any stone unturned in highlighting the hard work put in by friends of the forest, notes Sukanya Verma.

It’s deceptively tranquil inside the heart of Kerala’s lush green jungle until a freely roaming elephant becomes a brutal target of a heartless hunter willing to trade his soul for ivory.

Despite the severity of this crime and illegality of pursuing a banned activity, no sense of accountability reflects in the manner a vast poaching syndicate is flourishing across the country and abroad.

Ivory smuggling grows murkier in stature as its purpose of serving perverse collectors who look at it as a symbol of luxury finds its links in international terrorism.

Outside the jungle though, few are bothered about the animal’s plight.

Nobody cares about wildlife in cities, a lackadaisical Delhi cop tells a committed team of forest officers determined to take the culprits to task no matter how high up they are in the socio-political food chain.

Inspired by true events, film-maker Richie Mehta’s passionate new Web series Poacher neither minces words in condemning these self-seeking slaughterers nor leaves any stone unturned in highlighting the hard work put in by friends of the forest.

Mehta’s distinction in meticulous, informed storytelling around the true crime genre packed a punch in Emmy-winner Delhi Crime.

He takes the same gritty route in Poacher, backed by Alia Bhatt, over the course of its eight tense, thrilling episodes, chronicling a feverish hunt to crack down the poaching syndicate following a guilt-ridden whistle-blower’s admission.

Events from 2015 draw attention to brazen instances of poaching, previously thought to be brought under control by the authorities since the amendment of the 1991 Wildlife Protection Act.

A core team of daredevil forest officer Mala Jogi (Nimisha Sajayan) and intel and snake expert Alan Joseph (Roshan Mathew) from the Wildlife Trust of India guided by field director and ex-R&AW officer Neel Banerjee (Dibyendu Bhattacharya) waste no time in going the whole hog in action spanning across Kerala, Goa and Delhi.

It’s a exhaustive network of poachers, dealers, buyers, carriers, carvers, consumers but the troika, along with many others, including the tough talking forest ranger Dina (Kani Kusruti makes a short but powerful appearance) are determined to get the job done by hook or crook.

With characters mostly conversing in Malayalam, English, a sprinkle of Hindi and Bengali, Poacher‘s bleak reality and throbbing intensity achieves a intricate texture in the mesmerising blend of personal and professional quandaries confronted by its leading protagonists throughout their pursuit.

Mala harbours dark daddy issues, her father was a poacher and putting every single one behind bars is part of her atonement for his misdeeds.

A deeply volatile character fluctuating between vulnerability and violence, Nimisha Sajayan’s seething eyes and righteous rage gives precious insight into her complexity from start to finish.

Alan’s empathy for the wild world and thrills of diving into field work while juggling his responsibilities as a married man and doting father are regularly at odds. Roshan Mathews successfully brings out the honesty in Alan’s character that makes his dilemma and desperation both pure and palpable.

Neel’s marriage to the job syndrome has alienated him from his wife and serious health issues aren’t helping his cause either but the man’s not budging till he has nabbed the culprits by the collar. And Dibyendu Bhattacharya delivers a tour de force in bringing this fraught but familiar face of professionalism to life.

All three performances duly convey the drive, commitment and fatigue of wildlife lovers consumed by their passion and pain.

Between their interpersonal dynamics and the strain of breaking into a vicious setup, Poacher weaves several edge-of-the-seat moments of will they, won’t they in the tradition of action thrillers.

The entire narrative is fuelled by the character of a relentless chase, on a moving train, under the nose of lynch mob, a ready-to-take-off plane but there’s no dearth of mediative moments too that make us privy to the sad thoughts in the eyes of good as well as guilty folks.

One of the sequences which draws parallels between a hunting party out to hurt the elephants and one trying to get to the truth of the matter poetically underlines the irony behind Mala’s observation of how poachers know the forest far more intimately than conservationists, what separates the twain is intent.

Poacher doesn’t hold back in criticising the lazy patrolling and negligence on the part of forest rangers either.

What is truly backbreaking is the extent of red tapism, wildlife crime fighters must endure to procure justice.

Mehta’s eye for detail in those furiously negotiated phone calls is as striking as its somewhat overly sanctimonious tone.

While the enlightenment over an ecosystem on the brink of collapse if the poaching culture persists is a need of the hour, Mehta, occasionally falls back on cliches and contrivances to make his point. Some of the bits pointing at a North Indian cop’s scoffing at feminism have a forced air about them.

What’s free-flowing at all times of this engrossing, eventful drama is Andrew Lockington’s persuasive background score and Johan Heurlin Aidt’s hawk-eyed camerawork even around some obvious VFX in a bid to safeguard animals.

Leave nature alone and it will take care of itself and us too, reminds Poacher.

But will greedy humans ever understand?

Poacher streams on Amazon Prime India.

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