Delhi Crime creator Richie Mehta’s interest in the police procedural finds a new outlet. Mehta’s Poacher follows a similar storytelling and stylistic format to Delhi Crime, but with a different target: ivory smugglers.

No animals were harmed during the making of Poacher, we are assured, but plenty are being killed anyway. The Prime Video series is based on an actual incident: a massive haul of illegally obtained ivory in 2015. The crime, which unearthed links between an art gallery owner in Delhi and poachers in Kerala, was busted by dogged Wildlife Trust of India staffers along with various law enforcement officials.

Mehta’s show revolves around the heroic women and men who go beyond the call to duty to save elephants from massacre. One such killing contributes a striking visual motif that links the eight episodes.

A grand pachyderm has been slaughtered for its tusks. The carcass gradually becomes a skeleton, returning the beast to the earth even as the narrative fleshes out the hunt for human monsters.

In Kerala, forest official Mala (Nimisha Sajayan) is asked by her boss Neel (Dibyendu Bhattacharya) to look into growing incidents of ivory poaching. Mala teams up with Alan (Roshan Mathew) to trap the man they believe is the lynchpin. They soon realise that the trail has more winding paths than a forest.

Poacher (2024). Courtesy QC Entertainment/Suitable Pictures/Poor Man’s Productions/Eternal Sunshine Productions/Prime Video.

Mehta’s screenplay traverses languages – the series is in Malayalam, English and Hindi – as well as numerous plot turns. There is ample momentum to the handsomely produced show, which maintains interest, but Poacher could arguably have been more effective if it had shed a few episodes.

The padding is provided by the domestic concerns of the characters. None of these sub-plots is of particular interest and border on the banal, from an indifferent spouse to a worried mother. Paradoxically, the more we know of the characters, the less interesting they seem. Always engaging while in action mode, they slump when they have to explain themselves to their family members.

The writing is at its most thoughtful when emphasising the need for wildlife conservation, mapping out the complex scale of the operation, and rolling out a host of engaging secondary. The investigators have to cut through bureaucratic thickets to reach their goal. Too many hunters are hunting the same animal, Neel pithily observes.

Dibyendu Bhattacharya in Poacher (2024). Courtesy QC Entertainment/Suitable Pictures/Poor Man’s Productions/Eternal Sunshine Productions/Prime Video.

The passion to halt the poaching lapses into overzealousness, resulting in what are clearly violations of human rights. Mala, in particular, behaves every bit like the movie supercop who will bend the law in order to uphold it. With the show firmly on the side of its righteous heroes, we are asked to look the other way, but it’s not always possible to.

There are times when Mala, played by the talented Malayalam actor Nimisha Sajayan, appears to be grinding bullets between her teeth. Aggressive, profane and irritable like one who hasn’t had her coffee fix, Sajayan’s Mala is far more compelling in her moments of contemplation.

Roshan Mathew has a smoother time as the multi-talented Alan, whose skills range from phone hacking to snake bite curing. Dibyendu Bhattacharya proves his dependability yet again as the world-weary Neel.

If the multi-lingual dialogue puts the diverse cast at ease, the eventful screenplay keeps them on their toes. An observation by one of the characters provides the meat for the show: hunters make the best conservationists. Poacher suggests that conservationists make excellent hunters too.

Poacher (2024).