Poacher review: Amazon's new Indian series is intense, well-made and important

Inspired by real-life events, the show is an integral cautionary tale that the whole world could benefit from knowing

Amazon’s crime drama miniseries Poacher is inspired by real-life events. Photo: Amazon Studios
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Inspired by heart-breaking true events, Amazon’s crime drama miniseries Poacher depicts a group of Indian forest officials as they try to uncover a secret ivory poaching ring that has been killing elephants.

The opening scene of the show in particular is based on a real-life event, when a former forest watcher from a remote village in the southern state of Kerala handed himself in to the local authorities and confessed to helping to kill more than 20 elephants across the region.

Sixteen months later, it was reported that 74 people, who worked as hunters, carriers, primary collectors and sponsors of poaching, had been arrested in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Delhi and West Bengal during this period.

Poacher isn’t a direct re-telling of this story. The large ensemble of characters are all original and the investigation they embark on is mostly fictional. But that doesn’t stop it from being an integral cautionary tale that the whole world could benefit from knowing.

Rather than prioritising the weight and importance of Poacher’s message, its creator, co-writer and director Richie Mehta brings a grittiness and authenticity to the mini-series’ visuals and an intensity to the story, which immediately makes it gripping to watch unfold.

At the same time, he incorporates tried and trusted character tropes from the crime drama genre to pull viewers in.

After the forest watcher’s confession, we’re introduced to the main characters that are going to head the investigation into ivory poaching. Mala (Nimisha Sajayan) is a highly regarded Indian Forest Service agent currently tracking birds in Kerala, when she learns of the forest watcher’s confession. After local authorities tactlessly tip-off their main target Raaz that he’s about to be arrested, by asking everyone in the small village where he is, Mala bribes a local bartender to get a tip-off that gets the case back on track.

She is joined in her investigation by Alan (Roshan Mathew). While he is not an officer, he has an in-depth knowledge of snake bites and other animals and is a vital expert for doctors treating patients, as well as forest workers. At the same time, he’s proficient with computers and data, which the officers then use to track criminals’ phones and computers as the investigation gets going.

Neel (Dibyendu Bhattacharya), the police chief who has brought Mala and Alan together and is also on the cusp of retirement, has to ask for favour after favour to help close the case before he calls it a day. This task is made all the more complicated by the sheer number of government departments involved in the investigation, as local police officers, Indian Forest Services, legislature officials and non-government workers all keep getting in each other’s ways. Especially after the forest watcher’s confession gets global press attention.

The investigation gets bogged down by so much red tape, that Neel tells Mala and Alan that the chain of command is no longer functional. This actually helps the pair, though, and they soon start to get their hands dirty and use unconventional methods to find the culprits responsible.

Despite the show’s occasional divergences into cliche and its debilitatingly on the nose script, Mehta’s decision to show Poacher from the perspective of the investigators helps to keep it fascinating, informative and heartfelt, as he ensures that audiences care deeply for each character. He also does a great job of immediately establishing how serious the problem could become, explaining that if they don’t catch the criminals then the animals will become fair game for other poachers across the country and will soon be extinct.

Poacher

Director: Richie Mehta

Starring: Nimisha Sajayan, Roshan Mathew, Dibyendu Bhattacharya

Rating: 3/5

The more Poacher goes on, the more it explores India’s tragic history with poaching. Sajayan and Matthew’s performances are so strong that they’re able to portray the burden of guilt and responsibility that the country feels towards the ivory trade without it coming across as forced or overly didactic.

At eight episodes long, Poacher is unfortunately unable to maintain the intensity and depth that make the opening episodes so captivating. But there’s still more than enough emotional weight and power to the story to keep viewers thinking about its message after it concludes, as well as how they can help in the real world.

Poacher begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video from Friday

Updated: February 22, 2024, 6:31 PM
Poacher

Director: Richie Mehta

Starring: Nimisha Sajayan, Roshan Mathew, Dibyendu Bhattacharya

Rating: 3/5