In ALT Balaji’s new show Test Case, Nimrat Kaur plays Shikha Sharma, an Army captain who may become the first woman to clear the special forces training and be accorded the title of “commando”. The show is a frank and nuanced study of the political and personal tensions arising from this momentous achievement.
The premise is established in the first episode, as a number of senior army officials are summoned to Raksha Bhawan for a meeting with the defence minister (Juhi Chawla playing this traditionally male role is a nice touch that mirrors reality). The minister is keen that the Army, like the Air Force and Navy, begin admitting women for combat positions. The men from the army are not enthused with the idea but ultimately agree to experiment with a “test case”.
At the academy, Sharma is naturally the only woman among a group of burly men – and the series effectively captures the dynamic of this skewed ratio. Particularly interesting is how she manages to walk the fine line between not demanding special treatment and not letting the men get away with loose talk related to her gender.
Vinay Waikul, who directs the series (except the first episode, which is helmed by Nagesh Kukunoor), maintains a steady focus on the regimen and hierarchy of military life, now shifting under the weight of changing social realities. Colonel Sathe (Atul Kulkarni), who runs the training academy, has strict orders from the top brass to dish out the toughest treatment on Sharma – and not just because this is Special Forces. Everyone, it seems, is keen to maintain the status quo and see her fail.
Kaur plays Sharma with an adroitness that is powered both by the physical demands of the role and the emotional underpinnings of the symbolism it carries. On the one hand, she comes from a household where dreams of the Army were restricted to the boys, and on the other, now that she has reached this far, she must continue to prove that she deserves her position.
The supporting cast is equally good, especially Kulkarni and Rahul Dev as the ustaad who takes the cadets through the paces of a grueling training. A number of familiar faces from television make up Kaur’s male counterparts in the academy – and the creators of the show must be credited for putting together a wonderfully diverse bunch.
Through its Army setting, the show also alludes to broader conversations about women in the workplace and the need to “lean in” for career advancement as well as graver themes such as sexual assault. Yet, the treatment is skilled enough to never feel over-the-top. ALT Balaji deserves all the applause for greenlighting a powerful show that is so different from the producer’s television content.