Poacher Review | A Well-Made Eco-Thriller With a Near Deal-Breaker Malayalam Enunciation

The last two episodes of the latest Richie Mehta directorial venture, Poacher, are happening largely in Delhi, and the intensity of those moments is extremely high. Richie manages to give it a very raw texture, and the thriller-like format succeeds in giving the viewer an idea about the depth of the mafia and the risk taken by the officers. If you are a non-Malayali who will rely on either dubbing or subtitles to complete this series, I would say it will be a gripping thriller for you. But if you are a Malayali, there is a high chance that you will blame the dialogue writing and certain casting choices for breaking the flow of an otherwise perfectly made thriller about Elephant poaching.

So the events in the series are happening in the year 2015, and the admission of a watcher about the killings of almost 18 elephants sends a shockwave across the forest department as it was an unheard number of poaching. They decide to do an off-the-record investigation to find the people behind it. Senior officer Neel Bannerjee assigns Mala Jogi in charge of the investigation, and wildlife conservationist Alan joins her. How the team manages to find the links of this big-scale business is what we witness in Poacher.

The series is based on real-life incidents, hence, the awareness side of the series is solid, and they have managed to achieve that part very convincingly in a non-preachy manner. Wherever the story is happening, we can see Richie including some animal in the frame to subconsciously convey the reality that we are the encroachers. On paper, the key characters in the series are extremely righteous, which is kind of hard to accept. But by showing us what they do and why they do that, in an organic way, Richie manages to make the series a POV from their side and their efforts to make us aware of the importance of the existence of all forms of life.

The concept and the screenplay of the series are pretty much flawless, considering the fact that the emphasis is on making us realize the scale of the whole thing rather than making it a whodunit. The series is primarily a Malayalam language series as the key events are happening here, and the main characters are Keralites. Gopan Chidambaran, who has previously written movies like Iyyobinte Pusthakam and Thuramukham, is associated with the project as a dialogue writer and dialogue coach. But the only major issue I had with the whole series was the way Malayalam was rendered in it.

It seems like Gopan Chidambaran has tried to make a literal translation of most of the dialogues, which I assume Richie had written in English. When some characters talk in those printed text formats that just don’t match with their persona shown on screen, you just feel like screaming, no they don’t talk like that. And making a series in Malayalam doesn’t necessarily mean that every word has to be in Malayalam. There is this wedding sequence in the film, and you can see Alan and his father having an argument about their worldview. Roshan Mathew is playing the part of Alan with ease while the actor playing his father is saying the lines more robotic than a robot. This is just one instance. There are many such instances in the series where I felt like there should have been someone on the set to tell Richie that the rendering sounds very forceful.

Richie Mehta, who is known for creating the compelling and gripping Delhi Crime, is actually following a similar aesthetic in the visual language and intrigue building. In the initial episodes of the series, the emphasis is to show us the background of the characters and, of course, the scale of the event. Each episode begins by showing the different stages of the decaying of a dead elephant, and Mala and Alan’s effort to track down the people behind these horrible deeds has a realistic speed, and the hurdles in front of them look practical. There is no huge twist in the tale here, and what makes the series exciting is the way the characters tackled the bureaucratic hindrances in exposing this huge nexus. The visuals that have these contrasting bluish and warm tones along with negative spaces in conversational bits work really well in creating tension.

Nimisha Sajayan, as Mala, is playing this aggressive wildlife conservationist who doesn’t understand the smooth way of getting things done. Her empathy towards animals is extremely high and you can see her being extremely ruthless to humans around her who are trying to make her act oblivious of the poaching. Nimisha performs the character with a great level of conviction, and one can sense the anger and tension in her eyes towards the final moments of the series. The only issue I had with her performance was the occasional stiff Malayalam dialect. Roshan Mathew as Alan was flowing smoothly, and I would really say the way he managed to tweak the dialogue modulation to make it sound more colloquial was what missing in other performances in the series. Dibyendu Bhattacharya, as the Bengali stuck in Kerala, delivered a very convincing performance as the chief of Mala and Alan.

Kannur Squad fame Ankit Madhav, who plays the role of Vijay Babu, was struggling with poorly written dialogues, while actors like Sooraj Pops, Ranjitha Menon, Kani Kusruti, etc., were able to make their lines sound very organic on screen. In terms of how the actors should look the part, the casting by Mukesh Chhabra has managed to get it spot on. But as I said, the dialogue delivery of some of them who are playing crucial characters is so flat that you just get the Deja Vu of watching some of those other language creations in which Keralites had to endure cringe-inducing Malayalam diction.

I am very much in a confused and conflicted space in giving a verdict on this series, to be honest. The craft of the series, the way the screenplay is written, how they have given space to characters, and the way the thrills get elevated in the last moments of the series are nothing short of fabulous, and I am in awe of the fact that the series was a thriller despite having no major twists so to speak. But the carelessness in making sure the Malayalam in a Malayalam web series of this scale sounded authentic somewhat infuriates me. The series is otherwise so good that I feel like requesting Richie Mehta to redub some of the portions to make it a series that a Malayali could watch without wincing.

Final Thoughts

If you are a Malayali there is a high chance that you will blame the dialogue writing and certain casting choices for breaking the flow of an otherwise perfectly made thriller about Elephant poaching


Green: Recommended Content

Orange: The In-Between Ones

Red: Not Recommended


By Aswin Bharadwaj

Founder and editor of Lensmen Reviews.