Poacher review: A sensitive, gripping and compelling eco thriller!

Sakshi Sharma
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Poacher review: This Richie Mehta and Alia Bhatt show will urge you to look within the nexus of poaching while talking to you about how there is only one dangerous animal in the jungle- human beings!  

A few days ago, there was a video doing the rounds on social media. Its content was of a dog being repeatedly punched by a couple of men working in a dog grooming place, for fun. I got another glimpse of this kind of vicious cruelty while watching Poacher, where elephants are poached by shooting them point blank in their heads, and their trunks are ripped apart only to be sold off to make ivory decorations. This show tells an organically heartbreaking, honest, sensitive, gripping, and compelling tale in the form of an eco thriller.

The show's title sequence depicts the ivory Lord Ganesha (elephant-god) idol being built in a very 'The Crown' style, which sets the show's allegorical (symbolic) tone. It's an investigative thriller about the Indian Forest Service officers catching the people involved in the entire nexus of poaching, smuggling, and buying and selling ivory. But is also a layered commentary on gender, caste, economic class, and the ecosystem. It's a masterfully crafted show that understands the pulsating tension-building feel of the investigative thriller but is also not afraid to break free from the commercial palatability of the genre to offer some real insights. Instead of just relying on showing the horrific crime, every episode opens with a succession in the cycle of the death of an elephant, from being shot to turning into a carcass. 

Mala (Nimisha Sajayan) is the daughter of a poacher, carrying the burden of atoning for the sins of her father, and a woman in a male-dominated profession who maintains the mask of a hardcore, unemotional police officer. But she is alsosomeone who pukes after witnessing the rotten carcass of an elephant or breaks down after escaping through a near-death experience. Alan (Roshan Matthew) is a computer programmer moonlighting as a snake expert and analyst for the forest department. But he is also a married man with a son who is ridiculed by the world for not being a responsible "man". Neel (Dibyendu Bhattacharya) is an ex-RAW officer, a hardcore workaholic field director heading the investigation whose marriage is in shambles, and he hides being diagnosed with cancer from everyone. In their own ways, all three of them are disconnected from the human world and, hence, are connected so passionately with nature. 

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As seen in the Emmy-award-winning show Delhi Crime, Richie Mehta's filmmaking genius is in the fact that he makes us look at human beings who lie beyond some typecast of crusading hero police officers or cruel, vindictive criminals. He understands crime is, after all, an extension of our society, so it's more important to look within the system to figure out what is wrong than to pin the blame. Here, he does the same! In a very documentary-style approach wrapped in fictional storytelling, he looks within the depth of the ecosystem of poaching, from how lower caste-class people turn into blood-lusting poachers while the rich and powerful enjoy the privilege. 

These eight episodes aren't a cry for attention or forcing down social messages. With breathtaking forest visuals, the camera here is like an invisible tool that follows the lives of the people who go on train-chasing sequences catching poachers, do interrogations, work without sleep, or take out captured evidence through a raging mob. No loud thumping background scores or dramatic sequences are used to arouse emotions or distraction. In fact, the stillness of the show amongst the time-sensitive rush allows it to form into a think piece within an exhilarating binge-watch. It is a true multi-lingual Indian show, with an effortless switch between Malayalam, Hindi, Bengali, and more! 

Nimisha Sajayan's big expressive eyes hide as well as reveal, Roshan Matthews's charming gentleness, and Dibyendu Bhattacharya's effective easiness. Every cast member delivers the performance of a lifetime. Out of all the metaphors, my favorite is how the camera captures the animals existing in their natural habitat. It states that we are the ones entering into their terriority, not them into ours! It is also about how ants, leeches, vultures, tigers, foxes, pythons, eagles, monkeys, and more become the watchdogs of human animalness, contrasting the paid media that is busy shouting lies as truths.

If owning an ivory sculpture is a status symbol, then isn't it ironic to have an ivory idol of Lord Ganesha, given that it is made from the elephant's tusks? Hunting is chauvinistic behavior parading as a predatory activity establishing power over the weak, but how long does it take for the hunted to become a hunter? "Endangered" means "protected," but since when did "on the verge of extinction" become the call to "save"?  If Elephant Whisperers made you cry uncontrollably, Poacher will leave you with much-needed food for thought.

Poacher is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video!  

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alia bhatt poachers Amazon Prime Video Dibyendu Bhattacharya Delhi Crime Roshan Matthew Richie Mehta Nimisha Sajayan