• Release Date: 15/10/2021
  • Platform: Zee5
  • Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Priyanshu Painyuli, Supriya Pathak, Shweta Tripathi, Supriya Pilgaonkar, Varun Badola, Abhishek Banerjee
  • Director: Akarsh Khurana

Rashmi Rocket immediately brought back memories of the ordeals that Indian athlete Dutee Chand had to face when it was found during a test that her testosterone levels were naturally elevated and were above the permissible limits of the International Athletics Committee. She was immediately banned from competing in the female category. She had to fight for her cause in Switzerland before she could have her rights to compete in the female category restored. I cannot imagine the stigma and the pain that she must have endured hailing from a place like Jajpur in Odisha. She expressed her ordeal during a beautifully executed episode of Kaun Banega Crorepati with Amitabh Bachchan.

Rashmi Rocket makes it clear in the very beginning that it is only inspired by true events and that it is a fictional story. By doing this, Akarsh Khurana (director) and his team of writers are able to use the idea of the ordeal related to high testosterone levels in female athletes as the core of the story and effectively tie in a lot of other issues plaguing women sports and sports in general in the country. The result is an endlessly entertaining albeit clichéd and safe film that ticks all the boxes that are expected of a film of this nature.

Rashmi Vira (Taapsee Pannu) is brought up by the most liberal father that one can imagine who not only loves his daughter but also believes in her decisions and choices. While the mother is a tad bit orthodox and protective of her daughter, she too expects the world from her. Rashmi grows up with a natural athletic ability to run and outrun almost anyone. She meets Captain Gagan (Priyanshu Painyuli) who spots her talents and literally muscles her into entering the track and field competitions. Rashmi quickly makes a mark for herself in the state and is subsequently called for national duties soon after. At the national training centre, she has to deal with the ever-present challenge of being an outsider and keeping up with the incessant taunts and backbiting of at least two teammates, one of whose father is a national selector.

Rashmi Rocket

Soon Rashmi becomes a national champion and wins 3 international medals pushing back the selector’s daughter into the shadows. The selector played by Varun Badola cannot take this lying down and hatches a plan to have her banned using a draconian international athletics law that is regressive and unfair. His plan works. Distraught at her unimaginable humiliation, Rashmi gives up on the sport and retorts into a shell. It is at this juncture that she finds solace in the friendship of Gagan who had introduced her to the sport in the first place and decides to finally do the right thing. Sue the National Athletic Committee and the men who physically abused her.

Taapsee Pannu is easily the best thing about this film. She is able to make the audiences experience the pain, humiliation, suffering, and finally a sense of victory and achievement of an athlete in her exhilarating journey from a self sure and strong-willed woman of Bhuj to the tracks and fields of the international arena. Through her rendition, we are able to experience the helplessness that someone like Dutee Chand must have experienced when she was wronged so terribly. Pannu has physically and aesthetically transformed herself for the role and it shows in the way she moves and acts throughout the film. There isn’t a single scene where she feels out of place. She is at home doing the dramatics bits just as much as she is when she is shown doing the physical stuff like practising and competing. She has literally surrendered to the character and that has greatly aided her rendition and the overall impact that the character has on the film and the story as a whole. The entire film anchors on her essay and she proves to be ever so dependable. The result is an immersive film that doesn’t let you notice its clichés and over-the-top aspects too much.

Abhishek Banerjee plays Eeshit, An advocate who begs Rashmi to take her ordeal to the court. He plays someone who is just getting started in his law practice and was all this while an intern with the man who he is about to go up against if Rashmi decides to sue the Athletics Committee. I just loved how Abhishek Banerjee was able to beautifully and yet subtly express his tension and anxiety at finding himself at crossroads with someone who is a strong competitor and knows his way around the law. Despite that, he has an overwhelming desire to do the right thing and ensure that justice is served to Rashmi. These two aspects of the character gel organically to lace the character with an oddball charm that is difficult to miss and is enjoyable to watch.

A still from Rashmi Rocket

Priyanshu Painyuli as Rashmi’s support system and later husband is fantastic. He sends the right vibes as a captain of the Indian Army. There is a sense of ease in their chemistry that helps in rendering the romance and the bits where we see Rashmi extract her life’s essence from Gagan effective and real. Their love story feels real and it adds a lot to the impact and effectiveness of the characters. While the character of Gagan in its singularity doesn’t have much to offer, it does serve as the perfect foil to the character of Rashmi and almost always either ask the right questions or gives the right answers thereby elevating a particular sequence or setting the character of Rashmi on a certain path. The same can be said about the character of Rashmi’s mother played with charm and tact by Supriya Pathak.

Rashmi Rocket has some of the best sports renditions that I have seen in a while in a Bollywood film. Ignoring the fact that apart from Taapsee Pannu no other actor went the extra mile to shape up like an international athlete, the sports sequences are rendered effective and the actors put in just enough effort to make the sequences appear raw and physical. While the emphasis is on Taapsee and she is a firebrand in these sequences, the others just get enough limelight to not make the sequences feel like a setup that is designed to highlight only one character. Since most of the actors are doing their own stunt work, it becomes easier for the cinematographer to shoot the sequences in a certain way and it helps the cause of rendering the sequences effective immensely.

In addition to the sports sequences, Rashmi Rocket is a good-looking film with a protagonist in Taapsee Pannu who looks fabulous throughout the film. Her rendition of the character is physically no less than a man and has a staggering persona that has both the oomph of a lady and the swagger of a man.

Rashmi Rocket on Zee5

Having said all that, the film does end up in familiar territories when the antagonists of the film are revealed. The character enacted by Varun Badola started off on a different note but quickly turned formulaic and predictable. Even some of the female athletes are depicted as pure evil or good when a little bit more conflict in their actions could have elevated the impact of their actions. The court case ends up being a tad bit more dramatic than it should have been even though, throughout the courtroom sequences, the judge played by Supriya Pilgaonkar kept asking Abhishek Banerjee to keep his histrionic and dramatics to a bare minimum as that’s how actual courts work.

Rashmi Rocket addresses an important issue. Even if a female athlete fails the test of elevated testosterone, she cannot be categorised as a man or abused for it. Rashmi is proved to be just as much a female as any other of her compatriots but is subjected to horrifying physical and mental abuse. Rashmi Rocket is as much a call to dealing with such situations in a more scientific and level-headed manner as it is to ensure that athletes are not physically and mentally traumatised based on a test that in itself is inconclusive going by how the human body works. It feels like a desperate prayer for help from athletes like Dutee Chand who brought laurels for the country but were in the end ridiculed and abused. This film deserves a view for its content and performances; especially Taapsee Pannu’s stellar act.

Also read | ‘Old’ has a shocking, fantastical concept at its core but execution spoils the film

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