Poacher Movie Review: Richie Mehta's series is a gripping, informative, and immaculately staged thriller

Richie Mehta
Despite the numerous dilemmas it presents, Poacher remains clear about being a clarion call for doing the right thing even if it's going to make you uncomfortable
Poacher Movie Review

Poacher Movie Cast & Crew

Production : Eternal Sunshine Productions
Director : Richie Mehta
Music Director : Andrew Lockington

If Richie Mehta hadn't taken up filmmaking, I reckon he would've been a journalist. He has all the qualities of a great truth-seeking reporter who treats you to insightful information you didn't know and makes you see the world with a fresh pair of eyes, even if they have witnessed a significant amount of horrors. Like a thrilling, informative Frederick Forsyth novel, Poacher dives deep into the intricacies of the illegal poaching business and the vast network that involves remorseless or conflicted bottom-level executors and influential top-level dealers and business people.

After delving into the aftermath of a gruesome crime in his Emmy award-winning first season of Delhi Crime, Mehta returns to another kind of upsetting crime: ivory poaching. Unlike Season 2 of Delhi Crime, Poacher has the full involvement of Mehta in a directorial capacity. Primarily a Malayalam-language series, Poacher has a fair amount of Hindi, Bengali, and English. 


Writer Gopan Chidambaram, who penned the Malayalam films Iyobinte Pusthakam and Thuramukham, has been credited with the Malayalam lines. While some of these lines are burdened by the weight of translation and save for one or two awkward instances of delivery, most are on point or passable.

Poacher is, after all, a series whose principal strength is derived from the writing and staging prowess of its creator and, of course, its three principal actors: Nimisha Sajayan is Mala Jogi, a fiercely determined forest range officer who has her own reasons for going after the perpetrators. Roshan Mathew is Alan Joseph, a data expert involved in wildlife crime, who also happens to moonlight as a snake expert. Dibyendu Bhattacharya is Neel Banerjee, a field director in the Kerala Forest Department, with a strong background in intelligence. 


There are other actors too, in notably functional roles, and sometimes effective ones, such as Kani Kusruti's role, another crime fighter whose screentime, despite being relatively shorter, shows up with palpable angst and ferocity. As in Delhi Crime, Poacher gives the women ample space to shine. Among the other Malayali names, we get Kumbalangi Nights actor Suraj Pops as an integral character and Ranjitha Menon as the graceful, understanding wife of Roshan's character. 
The show sees Nimisha demonstrating her finest work since The Great Indian Kitchen. Sure, some Malayalam lines peppered with cuss words seem a bit forced and artificial, but there's no doubt about how convincingly she sells her character's single-minded purpose and vulnerability. There's a pivotal moment where she comes close to losing her life; this woman, who up until that point came across as someone incapable of showing her softer side, breaks down while talking to her mother on the phone.

Roshan doesn't get the usual stereotypical geek caricature: He doesn't wear glasses or drink multiple cups of coffee; he is one of the calmest characters in the show. Even when he becomes elated at cracking something he was confident about, he doesn't react like one of those hyper-eccentric techies in Hollywood movies. Alan is a character actively involved in the case throughout the show. There are some very hairy scenarios into which he, Mala, and Neel get thrown -- appropriately anxiety-inducing sequences that Mehta stages with the precision and urgency-staging skills of someone like, say, Paul Greengrass.

However, the true show-stealer is Dibyendu's Neel Banerjee, a workaholic battling his personal crises while immersed neck-deep in the investigation. We can see that beneath that often calm exterior, there is much turmoil going on. The work, we assume, is his way of distracting from it, and it's working out well for him, even if it means making certain sacrifices on the personal front. A skilled juggler of information, Neel has his eyes everywhere, occasionally scanning his environs for potential moles. This is a man who has mastered the art of spycraft. Dibyendu plays Neel as a man who can be curt when he needs to be but is also sympathetic to the needs of those putting their lives on the line.

Despite bringing a documentary-level grittiness to the proceedings, Mehta is perfectly aware that this is also a work of entertainment. Poacher is a perfect example of controlled chaos, where some of the most unexpected threats can come from the most sedate corners. The visuals often boast a lyrical quality, like the recurring image of animals constantly looking at their human co-habitors, either from up close, a distance, or from above. It's as though they are looking at us with caution; in some instances, we wonder whether it's a cry for help. Some of the visual effects shots are tacky, but they work in the case of close-ups, particularly in those hard-hitting moments.
In a story about murdered animals and how it seriously affects our ecosystem, there is continual emphasis on the idea that humans are the real 'animals'. In one of the later episodes, we see a brilliant juxtaposition of events from two timelines, and the effect is equal parts harrowing and fascinating. Take the scene where the poachers decide what to eat for dinner: a twisted version of the predator-prey parallels.

The final episode ends with an emotional image sure to tug at your heartstrings. It's a fitting closure for a character carrying the weight of her father's sins for the longest time. While on parents and children, Poacher occasionally invites us to ponder on conflicts tied to the livelihood of families which depend on the death of a magnificent creature, but it remains clear about being a clarion call for doing the right thing even if it means making you uncomfortable. 

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