Rashmi Rocket suffers from overcrowding.
Through its runtime of nearly two hours, it hints at too many issues without sinking its teeth into any, notes Deepti Patwardhan.
In a recent interview, Rashmi Rocket Director Akarsh Khurana said, ‘As a viewer, I’ve always been fond of courtroom dramas, mature romances, and sports films….This film gave me the unique and exciting opportunity to work on something that had all of these elements.’ That much is right.
Rashmi Rocket, which releases on ZEE5 on October 15, is eminently undecided on whether it wants to be a sports movie, romantic film or courtroom drama.
It begins as a story of Rashmi Vira (Taapsee Pannu), a small-town girl with a gift for running fast. Rashmi buries her athletic ambitions for personal reasons and instead follows in her father’s footsteps to become a tour guide in the Rann of Kutch.
Even though they live in a patriarchal society, the women in her hometown Bhuj are independent and influential. None more so than her mother Bhanuben (played by Supriya Pathak).
Army captain Gagan Thakur (Priyanshu Painyuli), a former athlete himself, helps her correct her course and get back on the running track. The 13 years of training that she has lost is shrugged off and ‘Rashmi Rocket’ bursts into national reckoning with record speed.
She’s soon blazing tracks across the nation and has an Usain Bolt-esque signature celebration to round off victories.
In her first international competition, called the ‘Asia Games’, Rashmi Rocket wins three medals. That’s where trouble starts to brew. Her sudden rise leaves her open to scrutiny.
Rashmi is pulled in for gender testing, a topic that has widely been criticised the world over. The test, which mainly states that her testosterone level is higher than the internationally set limit for female athletes, is used to ban her from the national team.
A trial by media follows before lawyer Eeshit (Abhishek Bannerjee) urges her to drag the Indian athletics association to court.
The story is loosely based on the Dutee Chand court case, which, like the movie, occurred in 2014. Chand challenged the ban and dragged the Athletics Federation of India and the world body IAAF to court over it.
Over the years ‘gender testing’ has been banned by a lot of sporting bodies because it is seen as an affront not only to the players’ integrity but their identity.
The IAAF still follows a diluted version of it and has disallowed female athletes, most famously South Africa’s Caster Semenya, with higher testosterone levels from competing in 400m, 800, and 1500m events.
It is a burning issue in sport, and hasn’t yet been explored by a Bollywood movie.
But Rashmi Rocket suffers from overcrowding. Through its runtime of nearly two hours, it hints at too many issues at a time without sinking its teeth into any.
Every problem you can think of — from stereotyping jeans and tank top wearing, motorcycle-riding Pannu as a ‘launda‘ to domestic violence to urban encroachment — receives a mention. The social commentary is incessant.
While we are already wrapping our head around the ‘gender testing’ scandal that Rashmi is pulled into, we learn she’s pregnant. And then there’s the whole other issue about athletes tackling pregnancy, competing during and after it.
The movie suffers from a lack of focus. Just like Rashmi’s transformation from an obscure talent to a gold-medal-winning-one is wrapped up in a few montages, the court case is fast-tracked into a favourable verdict.
The key to any great courtroom drama is the dialogue: The tug of war between the right and the wrong, the grand opening statements and grand closing arguments. None of that here.
The writers haven’t given enough space to stack up an argument, build tension, allow contemplation. Nor is there an uplifting, well-crafted moment of athletic brilliance that you can hang on to.
Even as the storyline jumps from one topic to another, the location flits from the vast white expanse of the Rann to the training ground in Pune to the sandy beaches of Mumbai. What gives the viewers a sense of continuity and congruity is Pannu and her fantastic crown of hair.
All the hard work Pannu has put into building a strong, muscular body of a sprinter is evident. But where she excels at is Rashmi’s weaker moments. Particularly, the scene where she gets pulled in for an unknown test right after the biggest win of her career.
Young athletes around the country and across sports are vulnerable, especially when they don’t have high-placed mentors, and she portrays the confusion and helplessness beautifully.
The movie benefits from a self-assured cast. Even though none of the characters, apart from Pannu’s, are very well fleshed out, the actors do their bit to give it more nuance. Supriya Pathak, who is particularly under-used, is reliable as ever and shines in the role of a strong community leader and disciplinarian.
For casual fans of sport, who may not be aware of the Dutee Chand case and the issue of hypoandrogenism in sport, Rashmi Rocket is a good starting point. But the film lacks depth and grit.
It has been a year of immense growth in sport. The pandemic amplified the fault lines, sport stars became advocates and activists for social change, de-stigmatised the issue of mental health.
At a time when athletes are pushing boundaries of their scope of influence, Rashmi Rocket is politically correct without being enlightening.
Rashmi Rocket streams on ZEE5.
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