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Monday, December 11, 2023

Rashmi Rocket Review: The Sprint Towards Societal Progression in Sports

Marking the festival of Dussehra, ZEE5 has premiered the awaited Bollywood film Rashmi Rocket, directed by Akarsh Khurana (of Karwaan and Mismatched).

Rashmi Rocket revolves around a village girl named Rashmi Vira (Taapsee Pannu) who aspires to represent India at the world championship.

The sprinter might have become an inspiration back home, but she soon realises the exploitation female athletes face in the name of gender testing under the archaic system of our country.

When her body type fails to fall under the conventional feminine cut, she gets banned from the sport after being declared ‘not a woman’.

Thereafter, a human rights lawyer, Eeshit Mehta (Abhishek Banerjee) enters and begins her fight against the athletics association to regain her respect.

The film then goes on to present a personal battle to uphold her identity and get back to the race of life.

First and foremost, in contrast with the barrage of sports biopics that have emerged in Hindi cinema, Rashmi Rocket is the voice for all athletes who have faced stigma and undue ostracism due to the gender test.

Just focusing on our very own national treasures, Dutee Chand, an outstanding athlete in 2014, was banned from competing as a female because of high testosterone levels in her body, a clinical condition called ‘hyperandrogenism’.

The movie addresses the problematic test in a nonchalant way and it’s about time that we get to see this issue being explored through mainstream cinema.

As such, the film also aptly tackles gender stereotypes as well as ‘nepotism’ in sports and how corruption is so deep-rooted. I also like the fact that the sport itself becomes an instrumental character, mirroring the sprint towards the finishing line of justice.

Court sequences that openly discuss these subjects are the highlight of Rashmi Rocket, making the second half itself compelling to watch. These scenes, for me, are the biggest strength of the movie and it is quite lovely to see Supriya Pilgaonkar play the judge too.

It is impressive to see how these topics are embedded naturally within the narrative and not forced in to make some kind of ‘woke’ commentary. The treatment of Rashmi Rocket is certainly dynamic than other sports movies we’ve seen.

Plus, I appreciate that the film’s intention is to not look at India with a condescending lens but to encourage progression. It’s about time we see such content emerge on celluloid as it’s exhausting to see news channels constantly screaming flaws to do with our country.

Taapsee Pannu over time has proved her mettle as a talented actor. She tries her best as the titular character, but sadly the writing (and to an extent, the performance) of her character and story seems quite half-baked.

I can understand that the role is attempting to steer away from cultural stereotypes and does not try to be Gujarati, but somehow, (as a Gujarati myself) I was not able to connect with the character. Plus, I’m not sure all people from Kutch have that style of appearance.

It seems like the incorporation of a Garba-type dance sequence tries to convince us of the cultural milieu and backdrop. Even the setting itself just seems very… Random? There seems to be a disconnect between the character and her background.

The music too is quite underwhelming. Moreover, they do not exactly capture the organic essence of Gujarat. Given that this is a state packed with culture and arts heritage, a lot more could’ve been done to bring out its authenticity.

Moreover, the viewer is shown the reason why Rashmi was sceptical of participating in athletics and her fear of returning to it. Even when she finds out that she has been banned, the narrative does not delve into her emotions and mindset as strongly as it should have.

I am even touched by the representation of Rashmi and her mother, Bhanuben (Supriya Pathak), which is shown to be very strong and encouraging.

The fact that Bhanuben is a single mother, the journey she has faced in raising Rashmi, for me, is important to witness as all these aspects explain why the character is the way she currently is.

The reason why ‘Sports dramas’ work is because of the solid development of characters and how their emotions and journey are encapsulated on screen. I genuinely wanted to feel emotionally invested with Taapsee’s character – but the lacklustre writing is the fault here.

Priyanshu Painyuli plays the male protagonist Gagan Thakur, an army man and the pillar in Rashmi’s life. He has a very soothing yet strong presence, which is very joyful to observe. It is very heartening to see experienced actors like himself get prominent opportunities in the lead and about time too.

The show-stealer for me is Abhishek Banerjee. We’ve seen him play humorous characters in films like Stree as well as darker roles in Paatal Lok. 

Here, though, his performance is so distinct from his previous works. It is exciting to witness a more serious side to him and it is fascinating to see Banerjee present versatile roles with such chutzpah.

Rashmi Rocket is certainly no masterpiece nor is it near to perfection. However, the subject explored is of paramount importance and it is quite surprising how a lot of Hindi movies have not covered it in such detail if any at all.

At least the film questions an obsolete system and provides a voice for the unjust and mistreatment of Athletes.

⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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