The Test Case review: Nimrat Kaur’s one-woman army show is the best thing to happen to Indian TV in years
The Test Case review: Nimrat Kaur plays the first woman officer ever to enroll in the army’s Special Forces unit in this Alt Balaji original web series.tv Updated: Feb 02, 2018 13:32 IST
The Test Case
Director: Nagesh Kukunoor, Vinay Waikul
Cast: Nimrat Kaur, Atul Kulkarni, Rahul Dev
Television in India has long needed a renaissance but we have given up any hope of seeing that happen on the actual TV. While prime-time shows got more regressive and unintelligent in the last half a decade, we pinned our hopes on web series, only to be left disappointed once again.
When not minting generic love stories, web series gave an opportunity to the likes of Vikram Bhatt to peddle more sleazy erotica masquerading as murder mysteries. But a new day has dawned upon us with Nimrat Kaur’s The Test Case and little did we expect that it would be brought along by the very entity that ruined TV in the first place, Balaji.
Alt Balaji offered three free episodes of the series and demanded that I pay Rs 100 for the rest seven. Hopeless as I was, I knew I would not giving a single penny of my hard-earned money to a streaming service with a bank of fewer movies and shows than I have on my phone right now. With a movie gallery asking me to watch Kya Kool Hain Hum and Ragini MMS 2, Alt Balaji could not have left a worse first impression on a new user. Thankfully, The Test Case thumbnail wasn’t easy to miss and after a click, all that followed was only an uphill climb. It left me Rs 100 poorer by the end of it and incredibly surprised.
When President Pranab Mukherjee decreed that women will also be recruited in combat roles in the army in 2016, a wire shorted in Ekta Kapoor’s head and the idea for a new show was born. The Test Case tells the story of Captain Shikha Sharma (Nimrat), the first woman to get enrolled in Indian Army’s Special Forces unit, and her struggle to make her presence felt in an all-male group of soldiers. The struggles range from tolerating sexist jokes, sharing showers with naked, ogling men, putting up with the toxic masculinity and fragile egos and finally, getting sexually assaulted.
The show tests your patience in the initial few episodes with thick, unrelenting dialogues on women empowerment, and its in-your-face feminism. In the pilot (and also the worst) episode, directed by Nagesh Kukunoor of Dor and Iqbal, Rani Laxmibai’s valour and Harvard studies about women’s ability to tolerate more pain than men are quoted to prove a point. WhatsApp forwards on p*ssy being stronger than b*lls is the most impressive comeback our heroine could manage to a man questioning her strength. Not just dialogues, the music to accompany it is a problem as well. Weird, distracting music that reminds one way too much of the kind that plays in glossy porn right until things get hot and heavy, is added to what should have been simple conversations. Montages of our lead working hard to get what she deserves, are mercilessly marred by the cringeworthy songs like ‘Meri Ragg Ragg Mein India’ while elsewhere someone uses ‘surgical strike’ as a verb in a casual conversation.
The problems here are irritating but still superficial. Three episodes in, you get used to bad songs and even the horrible background score appears less often. You are finally free to appreciate the show under the direction of Vinay Waikul, that is after you shell out the money.
With Time’s Up and #MeToo taking over our social media timelines and real life conversations, this is as close an art form has come to addressing and discussing it in our side of the world. Workplace harassment is a nightmare to go through and reporting it is not as easy as many make it out to be. With The Test Case, our lead knows that even reporting a crime like sexual assault doesn’t go without punishing the victim. “What did she expect walking into a battalion full of men?”, “We warned you about it!”, “That’s why women don’t belong in the army/corporate world!,” would have been just a few of the bricks thrown at her. The ‘well-intended’ men want her to speak her truth, to save her but she decides to save herself in a manner that may not work in every situation but definitely gives the sweetest closure to her story.
Nimrat had one of the greatest debuts with The Lunchbox but five years since, it’s always a struggle to recall more of her work, which is definitely a shame. Here, she brims with confidence as she takes on her untrusting superiors; with glory as she roasts her assuming colleagues, and with pain as she cries in the shower. Her voice still breaks when she tries to scream or get angry but that only tells me that her sweet, sublime character has finally had enough.
The show, while preachy in the beginning, spreads out into a thrilling whodunit and Anup Soni is called upon to investigate. After several years as the host of Crime Patrol, it was quite a welcome surprise to watch him on a fictional show. Also joining the star cast is Atul Kulkarni as the angry colonel whose only job is to say misogynist things, prefixing them with ‘I am not a misogynist but...’, giving Nimrat a reason to preach more lessons in feminism. With a cast full of men, actor Bhuvan Arora also needs a special mention for playing Captain Rohan Rathore. He was blessed with a nuanced character to begin with but he only gilded the lily with his mature, subtle performance.
Even though The Test Case may seem like just another story about the army and the torturous regimen followed by the men and women in it, the show, in its essence, is about any woman’s struggle in a male-dominated workplace. At best, you will be subjected to sexist jokes and at worst, to sexual assault. Captain Shikha Sharma’s journey not only traces most aspects of the life of a working woman but also how she deals with it all.
Finally, someone has learnt that a clear intention and a good story to tell are the primary requirements to making a web series, a television show or a film. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take just as long to learn how to not make your feminist heroine hurl sexist slurs in the very last scene.
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