Liked Poacher? Here’s why you should watch Julia Roberts as an environmental activist in Erin Brockovich

Steven Soderbergh’s Erin Brockovich, which won Julia Roberts an Academy Award for Best Actress, is the recommendation of the week.

In Richie Mehta’s Poacher, which released this week on Prime Video, Nimisha Sajayan plays Mala Jogi, a determined forest range officer in Kerala. She is called to report and work on a case that needs immediate attention. Elephants have been brutally murdered for illegal ivory trade. As the investigation takes full swing, Mala is most often the only woman in the room.

She is the silent observer, keenly taking notes and doing her work. Still, it is Mala’s steadfast determination to get to the truth – and her care and concern for the forest – that forms the centre of the narrative. (Also read: Poacher review: Richie Mehta delivers a brilliantly atmospheric tale on illegal ivory trade)

Julia Roberts in a still from Erin Brockovich.Julia Roberts in a still from Erin Brockovich.

Women at the centre

The manner in which Poacher positions Mala Jogi reminded me of another work, the 2000 film Erin Brockovich, directed by Steven Soderbergh. Julia Roberts played the titular role in the film, which is based on a real life story.

Now, there’s no question that Mala Jogi and Erin Brockovich are polar opposites in terms of how they communicate and go about their work, but what intrigued me was the common thread of concern that these two women shared for the environment. Both women also know that at the end of the day, its a man’s world. Both women also advocate for the preservation of ecological resources.
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Erin Brockovich highlighted the impact that Erin was able to make in the cover-up in a case that involved contamination through hexavalent chromium that caused a major health issue for the residents of Hinkley, California.

Erin shows genuine love and care for these citizens, communicating with the affected people to bring them justice.

She is a true ecofeminist heroine, where her perspective shows the interplay of disempowerment of both women and environment in a deeply capitalist economy.

A personal concern

Erin Brockovich is fierce and unapologetic about the way she goes about her work. She’s constantly judged and treated differently because of her lack of experience and education, and also because of her provocative dressing sense.

Yet, there’s a fire raging in her eyes, a will to prove her conviction through her work. The narrative flashes out her need for control, as she has suffered a number of setbacks – in her failed marriage – and has to take care of her kids and pay the bills.

There’s one particular scene, where she has a word with Ed Masry (Albert Finney), and she is frantic to realise that a major decision was made on a day, when she was sick. She goes on to explain the reason, saying, “Not personal? That is my time, my sweat and my time away from my kids – if that’s not personal, then I don’t know what is.”

In Poacher, Mala Jogi also has a similar burst of rage and desperation, when she is told to concentrate on the traders, who are contending for the ivory trade.

Who will follow up on the investigation for the tusks then? Who will care for noting down the number of elephants killed in the process? The system barely cares. Yet women like Mala Jogi and Erin Brockovich, in their own personal ways, take it upon themselves to account for the unaccounted, standing in the face of power with their unvarnished, complicated truth.

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