(This article has been republished from The Quint’s archives in light of Netflix’s ‘Delhi Crime’ winning the International Emmy for Best Drama Series in 2020.)
Delhi Crime. Soni. The Test Case.
What is it about a woman in a uniform?
Does she turn you on because she is intimately tucked inside a ‘man’s clothes’?
The sexed up ‘double lives’ of ‘women in uniform’ are definitely one end of the spectrum. The thought of her bare body, residing in a man’s dominion, is provocative enough to get the wheels turning. Here, gender — ‘femaleness’ — is a recital and the body, a stage. As assigned at birth. Bravehearts by day, sex bombs by night.
The public gaze is catered to with insidious pornographic appeal.
What about the other end of the spectrum? Popular culture’s changing tide of perception, seeking to de-glamourise, desexualise, and portray ‘women in uniform’, while on the job.
Hustling it out in a lopsided world, every decision taken is a battle won or lost.
Delhi Crime: “We Need More Lady Officers”
Take, for example, a few of our recent web series. In Richie Mehta’s Delhi Crime, Vartika Chaturvedi, played by Shefali Shah, a DCP, leads a team — comprised mostly of men – with a discerningly iron-fisted approach.
She handles a ghastly rape case that has mobilised the entire city. Emotions are volatile, public outrage is at its peak, and political vices are at their worst. She must, under such circumstances, lead by example.
You realise, after a certain point, that Vartika does not blink much. Her gaze is steadfast, and her eyes, liquid with resilience... even when her face is a knot of agony, stirred by the victim’s plight.
Her team, for the most part, is a bunch of officers with integrity, but lacking drive.
Push. Pep. Punch.
She is the thread that binds, prods, and jolts them to action. Ironically, she is addressed as ‘Madam-Sir’ by Vimla, a fellow female officer on the case. ‘Madam-Sir’ — the woman in a man’s shoes and clothes, calling the shots, breaking one stereotype at a time.
Vimla, played by Jaya Bhattacharya, and Niti, played by Rasika Dugal, are arresting as the two other female officers. They speak when spoken to, do what the job needs them to do, hold their own, and manage to remind you that — as women — they are adding value to the uniform.
There is authority, dedication, and sensitisation — all of which are exhibited through the very piece of clothing that has traditionally been a man’s dominion.
Delhi Crime has no voyeuristic camera-pans on the women’s bodies, but manages to never let go of ‘gender’. Here, gendered differences are a celebration, a balance that holds the team together. Neeti spends long hours and days on end, with Deepika, the survivor, as ordered by the DCP. Her brief? Stay by her side, and attend to her. You’re the closest to her age.
Yes, Delhi Crime has no overt point to make about ‘women in uniform’, but the sublimity stays with you. You know they’re here to stay.
The Test Case: “Desh-Bhakti Toh Gender Dekh Ke Nahin Aati”
On the other hand, if you remember Nagesh Kukunoor’s The Test Case, you will recall this acidic quip, “Desh-bhakti toh gender dekh ke nahin aati”.
Captain Shikha Sharma, played by Nimrat Kaur, is the first female officer to be inducted in a combat role and must brave all odds to prove her mettle. She insists on being assigned the same dorm as her male colleagues and battles out all raised eyebrows with manic vigour. Here, again, the uniform — for her — serves as an equaliser, a symbol of camouflage. Once donned, it puts everyone — man and woman — in the same court.
Shikha is told that “Special Forces is not a... picnic”, she is sexually assaulted by a fellow officer, and is constantly made to feel like she’s riding a sinking ship. She manages to keep afloat though.
The Test Case makes its point crystal clear — not only are the ‘women in uniform’ here to stay, but also to cut the bulls**t out.
Rage: A Multi-Tiered Emotion
Rage, as expressed by all these women, is a multi-tiered emotion, with varying degrees of expression. Of course, they are all angry at the regular doses of misogyny. But this ‘rage’ is also anchored on a web that intersects class, power hierarchy, and personal reflexes.
You don’t really get to know any of these women until you get to know how they react to circumstances.
Vartika never entirely flies off the handle. Yet, she gets the work done. But she is also an upper-middle officer, in the higher ranks, from a liberal, supportive background. There are privileges she can afford, perhaps, while fine-tuning her rage.
In Ivan Ayr’s Soni, on the other hand, Soni, a middle-class female cop, played by Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, struggles with her fits of rage. She slaps an unruly driver, while on duty, for refusing to cooperate with her; she slaps a boy, in a ladies’ washroom, for refusing to vacate and for misbehaving; she beats up a man who tries to sexually harass her — all of which lead to professional repercussions. And serious rounds of admonitions by her concerned superintendent, Kalpana, a soft, yet assertive IAS officer.
Kalpana, played by Saloni Batra, never raises her voice. She prefers to follow due protocol, almost akin to Vartika in this regard, and go ‘by the book’ while dealing with miscreants. Kalpana too, a true-blue boss at work, is from an upper-middle class background, unlike Soni, but she faces sexist microaggressions at home, while straddling both quarters.
In The Test Case, Shikha’s rage is, naturally, more carnal than any of the other women since her battles are much more contoured and transparent. On the ground, in a combat role, she is physiologically at war too.
While you watch these women, you realise that the uniform, as a piece of clothing, is felt more than it is understood. Emotions, for once, aren’t for 'sissies'. They are wearing the pants, perceiving the nuances, and, perhaps, showing Army Chief Bipin Rawat that women are ready to be brought back in body bags, if that’s what the job requires.
Skirtein, saari, raat, dopehari — darr darr ke nahi chalungi.Shivani Shivaji Roy, played by Rani Mukherjee, in ‘Mardani’.
The ‘women in uniform’ are getting the job done. Just as well as the men. Now, go Google our real-life officers.