Rashmi Rocket Movie Review: Effective performances push the film comfortably past the finish line
Akarsh Khurana's Rashmi Rocket, starring Taapsee Pannu in the lead, is a gritty, effective film about gender bias and injustice
Hyperandrogenism. The first time this term came into my knowledge was in 2006. Tamil athlete Santhi Soundarajan was stripped of her Asian Games Silver medal after she failed the “gender test”. Written by Nandha Periyasamy, there is no doubt that the basic idea of Rashmi Rocket stems from the story of the athlete from Pudhukottai. But the developed film -- with screenplay and additional dialogues by Aniruddha Guha, dialogues and additional screenplay by Kanika Dhillon, and Akarsh Khurana and Lisha Bajaj getting additional dialogues credits -- is more than just about one athlete. It is also about Dutee Chand’s fight against the system. It is also about the other nameless women athletes who are left to fend for themselves against a system that unceremoniously tags them as “not women enough.” It is also about their fight against uninformed sections of the media that don’t really do enough research and resort to sensationalism and name-calling. And when the film becomes about this overarching fight, it is impressive how director Akarsh has no qualms in pushing his trump card, Taapsee, right back to the periphery.
Director: Akarsh Khurana
Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Priyanshu Painyuli, Abhishek Banerjee, Supriya Pathak
When we first meet Taapsee’s Rashmi, she is manhandled by cops and dragged to the police station for trespassing into a girls’ hostel. The sheer helplessness of what happens next to Rashmi is chilling. But we soon go back to the flashback mode to see how a brave, young girl from Bhuj went on to become the fastest woman runner in the country. Here, we are introduced to Rashmi’s mother, Bhanuben (Supriya Pathak), who is waging a battle of her own to educate girl children in her area. The mother-daughter equation has a wonderful life of its own, but it isn’t fleshed out enough for us to invest ourselves in the ups and downs of it. On the running front, there is a mercurial rise for Rashmi from being just another fast runner to become a National-level athlete. It is interesting how Priyansh Painyuli’s Major Gagan Thakur is brought into the scheme of things. He is a running coach who spots the talent in Rashmi. Gagan, of course, goes on to be her partner outside the track too, and he strongly stands by her through her fledgling athletic career. Gagan has no saviour complex despite being a potentially hypermasculine character. Just like Jassie Singh (Panga), Darshan Kumar (Mary Kom), and Manav Kaul (Tumhari Sulu), Gagan is a refreshing addition to the list of strong male leads in women-fronted films.
Of course, we watch a sports film for its inherent underdog nature as there is no fun in watching the alphas winning in the end. However, in an impressive writing choice, when Rashmi wins at the end of the legal drama, there is no real final hurrah. It is more of the start for a long-drawn battle. Although the legal drama is almost weighed down by the familiarity of the proceedings, the presence of Abhishek Banerjee as the lawyer manages to elevate it. Having seen him stereotyped as the struggling “outsider” or a no-nonsense killer from the hinterland, Abhishek’s advocate Eshith is a wonderful casting choice. While the true adversary in Rashmi’s journey is the system itself, we do have our regular ‘city girls who are jealous of Rashmi’ villains. These portions are painfully generic for a film that tries its best to stay off the trodden track for most of its runtime.
Be it as the rebel, the talented runner, the trained athlete, the wronged hero, and the accommodative lover, Taapsee gives it all as the titular Rashmi. It might seem like just another film where Taapsee wins against all odds. However, this is much more than that. It is brave of Taapsee to do a film where the battle against the system takes paramount importance, and rightly so.
When the system decides to use its own “rules” to break someone’s grit and credibility, is there anything a simple person of this Indian republic can do? Yes, Rashmi has the resources and even an army man’s backup. But the battle is definitely uphill. Then imagine the plight of ones who don’t even have a semblance of both.
Towards the end of the film, we see statements about the bias and futility of the gender tests and the inherent lack of humanity in these examinations. The film almost positions Rashmi as a symbol of sorts rather than a singular entity. It might not always ring true in the overall scheme of things. However, as Rashmi’s father always says, “Haar jeet parinaam hai… koshish kaam hai.” It is not about victory or defeat…it is always about the drive, and on that count, Rashmi Rocket makes a rather sedate yet blazing run.