‘Poacher’ Review: Richie Mehta’s Eight-Hour-Long Prime Video Series About Ivory Smuggling Is Boring


The world of Indian entertainment is mildly filled with stories about the complex relationship between humans and animals. Every kid from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s have probably watched Haathi Mere Saathi. In the 2000s, Kaal mixed horror with environmentalism, and since it had Shah Rukh Khan in the form of a clickbait, most of us tuned in and learned a thing or two about not disrupting wildlife. While the 2010s’ defining commentary on the politics around our food chain was Jallikattu, the 2020s began its journey on the topic with Sherni. And if any of them managed to educate even one person-per-year regarding the environment and animals, while the masses only expressed concern when a news piece went viral, then that’s a win. Now, in 2024, Poacher is here to talk about the insidious nature of ivory poaching and how it’s destabilizing the delicate balance between humans and nature, and, well, that’s all it does.

Spoiler Alert: Alia Bhatt doesn’t show up in Poacher, so, keep your expectations in check.

Richie Mehta’s Poacher, which is inspired by the Malayattoor ivory poaching case, opens with a man named Aruku confessing to the Divisional Forest Officer that he is involved in the murder of elephants. He names Raaz, Poyya Varghese, Morris Finn, and Ivan Das, and begs the authorities to catch them before they turn the forest into a graveyard for elephants. When Mala Jogi learns about this, she employs Vijay Babu to arrest Raaz, but he gets away. This leads to a bunch of suspensions, and when the news gets covered nationally and internationally, a senior officer named Neel Banerjee is brought in to take care of this case. Given how he is aware of Mala’s expertise, he makes her his right hand. SHO Dina is allowed to pursue the case on her own. But since Mala is advised to assemble a team who will help her use the call records of the poachers to track them down, she recruits Alan, who is a computer engineer who moonlights as a snake expert and a wildlife conservationist. And they embark on a mission to nab the poachers and stop the illegal smuggling of ivory.

Poacher is so exhausting that I want to go into detail about where Richie Mehta’s writing falters, as well as not talk about it all because it takes such a long-winded route to say something that could’ve been explained over an email. It’s totally his choice to turn a newsworthy piece about poaching into an eight-hour-long show and be all serious about it because we should all care about the environment and animals, but there must be a better way to tell this story than this massive pile of information dump. I am not kidding when I say that almost 99% of the show’s dialogue is just factual exposition, and except for one episode, the narrative is so linear that you can see where it’s going from a mile away. There’s no sense of tension because the goalposts keep shifting in every other episode. Nothing about the mission or the characters strike an emotional chord, unlike Richie’s Delhi Crime, which used the Nirbhaya case to exploit the audience’s sentiments, because while I can do something to rid my surroundings of perverts, what the hell am I supposed to do about poaching? Not buying ivory? That’s expensive anyway. Not ride elephants? That’s certainly not the central focus of the show. What is it then? The only moment where the show elicits an emotion that’s not synonymous with boredom, thereby almost sabotaging its grim tone, and gives a peek into the wacky world of uber-rich people, is when it flashes an adult toy made of ivory.

A sliver of relevance appears in Poacher when the characters start talking about poaching being a viable source of income for people who can’t make ends meet. The show addresses the unpardonable nature of the act, but it also reflects the economic divide that’s pushing the working class to take up such illegal methods of making a living. However, since the narrative quickly moves into heist territory, that theme gets lost somewhere in the chase. On top of that, there’s the issue of Richie Mehta’s protagonists. For some demented reason, in the 21st century, he thinks that law enforcement authorities, using every excuse in their arsenal to dole out extrajudicial punishment or flout legal norms, are relatable and worth appreciating. News flash: it’s not. No amount of sob backstories, humanizing, or terminal diseases is going to justify the use of a representative of the state who can get away with extrajudicial punishment by labeling it as a fake accusation. There’s a section of the audience that has been brainwashed to worship law enforcers by, ironically enough, all the Singhams of the entertainment business, and maybe Richie’s shows are for them, but this is not my cup of tea. Also, when none of these characters’ worldviews are challenged, and their opinions are weirdly validated by the end, what’s the point of following them on this arduous journey? It’s the basics of the hero’s journey. Why is a show of this magnitude even failing at nailing the basics?

Poacher looks atrocious. The CGI and VFX are good but noticeable. But everything, from the dreary color palette to the drowsy lighting, just makes the viewing experience all the more tiring. There’s a scene towards the tail end of the show where you can see proper and bright natural sunlight in the background. However, for some reason, Richie Mehta and cinematographer Johan Heurlin Aidt refuse to go to that spot to shoot the scene. And that says everything that needs to be said about how Richie (and several other self-serious showrunners and filmmakers like him) associates literal darkness with the darkness of the subject matter. The whole show is paced horribly. Binge-watching is an uphill task. The music is pretty boring. The costume and make-up design are fine until you get to that one scene where everyone is sweating like they are in hell, and Nimisha Sajayan hardly has a bead of sweat on her face or her uniform. It’s a well-cast show, and that’s the best compliment that I can give to the casting director and the actors. Nimisha, Roshan, Dibyendu, Ankith Madhav, and everyone else who shows up on the screen do a good job. The writing has no depth, and the direction is uninventive, unfortunately. So, none of the performances end up being memorable.

The very reason I was excited about Poacher was because I am a fan of Nimisha’s work in The Great Indian Kitchen, Nayattu, and Malik, Roshan Mathew’s work in Kuruthi, Choked, and C U Soon, and Dibyendu Bhattacharya’s work in Undekhi, Mirzapur, Criminal Justice, and Dev.D. So, it pains me to see that their collaboration is such a disappointment, for no fault of their own. I can totally see why they signed on the dotted line. I just wish Mehta saw the mine of talent he had in his hands and utilized them to the fullest, instead of making them spew endless lines of dialogue while having the camera thrust into their faces. Anyway, what’s done is done. I hope producers and scriptwriters become intelligent enough to identify which stories deserve the episodic miniseries treatment, which stories deserve the feature film treatment, and which stories deserve nothing at all. If you are in the mood to watch anything involving humans, animals, and the environment, take your pick from the aforementioned Indian films or choose from international projects like Tom-Yum-Goong, Tom Yum-Goong 2, Okja, Avatar, Avatar: Way of the Water, Free Willy, and Princess Mononoke. I bet any of them will be better than Poacher.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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