The law enforcement is a male-centric institution. For centuries, women were assumed to be unfit for the task of enforcing law and order as they were considered physically weak and emotionally too invested to carry out these duties. In our country, the admission of women in permanent-commissioned positions started as early as 1938 in Indian Police Force and 1958 in the Indian Army. However, the Indian law enforcement accounts for less than 10 percent of women on active duty even today. Of course, there are many factors at play for this low turnout, namely, preference of male child over females, low educational opportunities for the girl child, casual sexism at workplace, pressure of caregiving and familial duties, and so on. One solution to motivating girls to pursue education and jobs in the law enforcement is perhaps through representation of women officers on TV shows and Films.
Over the years, we have had many Indian actresses donning the uniform and telling the stories of brave hearts who have wonderfully portrayed the nuances of being a woman in the law enforcement. Some of the recent stellar performances from the past few years were Geetika Vidya Ohlyan and Saloni Batra as police officers Soni and Kalpana in the film Soni (2018) and Shefali Shah as DCP Vartika in the series Delhi Crime (2019). Both the film and the series were received critically well nationally and internationally.
Where male officers can be ambitious leaders and not want a family, women officers unfortunately do not experience the same respect for their choices. However, the fictional women on this list may be able to bust some myths and encourage real women to venture out on their own and carve a space for themselves in the male dominated sphere.
1. Forest Officer Vidya Vincent from the film Sherni (Hindi)
The only IFS officer on this list, Vidya Vincent (played by Vidya Balan) from the film Sherni (2021) is an easy-going person who does not let casual sexism and corruption at workplace get to her or reflect in her work. It is her passion for the wildlife conservation that makes her an assertive leader when she is on field. She genuinely cares for conservation. Even though she has to fight her way because of the involvement of politics and a hunter, she carries out her duties to protect the wildlife with the help of local communities.
Vidya’s married life is also hassle-free. Although she gets the prying questions from her mother and mother-in-law about her staying away from home and when she’ll ‘settle down’ to have a child, she and her husband continue to tb fond of each other and a have healthy relationship which was quite nice to watch on screen.
2. IPS Amrita Singh from Grahan/Eclipse (Hindi/English)
The Disney-Hotstar series Eclipse or Grahan is an 8-episode series inspired by Satya Vyas’ book Chaurasi. Here, we meet IPS Amrita Singh (Zoya Hussain) who is fed up with her work in the Police because of the constant interference due to the Centre-State politics which leads to a wrap on her leads and cases. She is in the middle of quitting the force and joining her fiancé in Canada but it all changes for her when she is appointed the head of a Special Investigation Team that looks into Chaurasi’s 1984 Sikh Riots pending cases, of which her father is accused of being an instigator of. Amrita comes to term with this new information and investigates further to find out the truth of the riots.
We see the young officer torn between her duties as an investigator and a daughter trying to uncover her father’s past. Stuck between these two duties, it becomes difficult to keep the personal from interfering with the police work. Actor Zoya Hussain has delivered a complex character who morally dwindles a little but finds her way back to serve the truth.
3. Anbukarasi from Roudhram in Navarasa (Tamil)
From the nine-part anthology called Navarasa (i.e. nine emotions in the Indian Theatre Arts) created by Mani Ratnam, Roudhram (anger) features police officer Anbukarasi who seems to have anger issues that has gotten her suspended once. The plot follows the life of a poor family in Chennai and Anbu’s current case parallelly. The two timelines seamlessly merge into one giving us the full picture of why Anbu has so much anger in her. She breaks down at the end of the episode giving us a glimpse of the little girl who could not confront her mother’s occupation and instead her repressed emotions of grief spilled out in the form of anger. Actor Riythvika has masterfully portrayed the volatile emotions that the character goes through in a matter of seconds, giving us a character to sympathise with.
4. IPS officer Sakthi Pandiyan from Vadham (Tamil)
Venkatesh Babu’s Vadham is 10-episode series about an all-women task force that go up against powerful politicians in a stereotypical murder case. The main protagonist is IPS officer Sakthi Pandiyan (played by Sruthi Hariharan) who due to frustrations at work and pressure from her family about marriage and settling down, hands in her resignation letter but is rejected as her expertise is still needed in the force. She eventually leads the task force and solves the case.
The short 20 minutes episodic format of the show is fast pace and gripping, making for a good weekend binge. Majority of the scenes happen at the police station and one can see women officers at work even if the work is as mundane as filing documents.
5. SHO Kasturi Dogra from Aranyak (Hindi)
Netflix’s newest show Aranyak is loosely based on Bengali writer Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s book of the same name. The story is straightforward but a jarring one with parallels between the law of the jungle and our human society. The story is based in a small fictitious village of Himanchal Pradesh where a serial killer is on the loose. SHO Kasturi (played by Raveena Tandon) as a character is hard to read but her strict demeanor serves as a contrast against the grim mood of the eight episode series.
Other than these, we also got impressive performances on the OTT small screens in 2020. Some of the enjoyable ones in particular were Major Monica Mehra (played by Jennifer Winget) from Zee5’s Code M and ACP Soumya Shukla (played by Lara Dutta) from Disney-Hotstar’s Hundred. Both of these shows were written by women, the latter was even directed by a woman, Ruchi Narain. Both the shows were nuanced with many twists and turns with strong level-headed protagonists.
Another worthy mention was Homicide Detective Mira Dasgupta (played Sauraseni Maitra) from the 10 episode Bengali crime show, Lalbazaar. Although the character was the only woman on the team, she independently conducted investigation and victim interviews.
The times certainly are changing. From handful Bollywood actresses as police officers such as Hema Malini in Andha Kanoon (1981), Priyanka Chopra in the Don films (2006, 2011) and Rani Mukherjee in Mardaani films (2014,2019) to a whole episodic story with female officer leads is now possible because of the many women writers, directors and producers our film industry has gained. The long storytelling format and availability of these series on regional and international OTT platforms is an exciting time for all of us in terms of representation and variety of stories with feminist gaze. With women police officer series such as Delhi Crime, Hundred and She renewed for season 2, we are hopeful and excited to see more women on screen!
Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive or representative list. Suggestions to add to the list are welcome in the comments section.