Poacher review: Richie Mehta does the unthinkable, surpasses Delhi Crime in raw, emotional thriller on ivory trade

Amazon Prime Video's Poacher has already set the bar high, becoming the best Indian web series of 2024 so far.

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Nimisha Sajayan and Roshan Mathew in Poacher (Image: Prime Video)

Creator: Richie Mehta

Cast: Nimisha Sajayan, Roshan Mathew, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Ankith Madhav, Kani Kusruti, Sooraj Pops, Ranjitha Menon

Where to watch: Prime Video

Rating: 4.5 stars

Poacher is the kind of a show that does not come every day. It is a unique, engrossing, thrilling, and emotional show that not only keeps you engaged for eight long episodes but invested through the course of the story. From the mind of Richie Mehta (of Delhi Crime fame), the show follows a team of wildlife officials on course to uncover India’s biggest elephant poaching racket. Packed with stunning performances, flawless writing, and a strong emotional core, Poacher is as perfect as cinema can get.

Inspired by a real-life case of the uncovering of a poaching racket in 2015, Poacher follows wildlife officials Mala (Nimisha Sajayan) and Neel Bannerjee (Dibyendu Bhattacharya) as they are joined by wildlife expert Alan (Roshan Mathew) in the hunt for a massive-but-hidden elephant poaching racket deep in the jungles of Kerala.

Richie Mehta’s claim to fame has been Delhi Crime, widely considered one of the finest crime shows ever made in India. To me, Poacher is even better. The simple reason is that unlike Delhi Crime, the ‘victims’ of Poacher do not naturally elicit the same emotional outrage. Delhi Crime was about the most widely-reported emotionally raw crime of our times. It was bound to touch the viewers. Poacher does not have that luxury and yet Mehta is able to make us feel for the elephants and their silent protectors. That emotional connect, which the show establishes in the first few frames of the first episode itself, never leaves the viewer, elevating the show from just a thriller to a deeply personal experience.

Poacher works despite not being limited to one language, or maybe because of it. The characters speak in Malayalam, Hindi, English, and even Bengali, sometimes switching languages mid-sentence. All that adds to the show’s authenticity, grounding it in reality very firmly. The characters come across as living, breathing people and not simply faces on a screen. Despite tackling a world that is alien to the layman, the writers ensure that it does not get neeras (without flavour) or too technical.

Of course the writing is brilliant but the actors deserve credit too. Nimisha Sajayan is one of the finest young actresses of the country, something she has shown in Malik and Chithha in the past. In Poacher, she shows that she has the acting chops to carry a project on her shoulders too. She captures Mala’s anguish, rage, and guilt so effortlessly that it can be taught in acting schools. Roshan Mathew is a perfect foil, once again showing why he is so widely regarded across India. The actor brings humour, sensitivity, and an outsider’s perspective to the story, almost acting as an audience substitute in the technical world of poaching.

For me, Dibyendu Bhattacharya trumped even these two. The veteran actor has finally found his moment in the sun, having played supporting characters for years. He makes the eccentric and methodical Neel Banerjee so believable and delightful that he threatens to steal the spotlight every now and then.

The seventh and eighth episodes of Poacher are works of art, where the makers infuse some good old elements of race against the time but in two very different ways. The episodes are almost standalone potboilers, shot brilliantly and edited even more seamlessly. But even in the more quieter moments (and there are quite a few of those in this slowburn thriller), Poacher never lags, never gets boring, and never relents. It is an emotional story that thrills and tugs at your heart at the same time, a combination rare in today’s OTT world saturated with content.

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