FILM REVIEW: ‘Rashmi Rocket’ refuses to soar

Unfortunately, ‘Rashmi Rocket’ is a sum total of some badly handled moments and sloppily mounted scenes, their cringe value further accentuated by bad acting

A still from the film
A still from the film
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Namrata Joshi

Taapsee Pannu has been on a roll for quite a while now with an assortment of women-centric films on a range of social/gender issues. Take the latest, Akarsh Khurana’s Rashmi Rocket that aims at shining a light on the contentious yet little known and far less debated practice of gender testing in Indian sports.

A work of fiction inspired from the lives of Indian women athletes whose careers were damaged beyond repair by these tests, the film is certainly well-intentioned, but that alone can’t win the battle. The point is whether the significant questions raised—about what separates a woman from a man biologically, physically, psychologically or socially; in the field of sports or the battle of life; more so, do these differences matter—are rendered compellingly on screen.

It’s here that Rashmi Rocket fails. It never rises above being flat, insipid and un-engaging and is not able to deal with the issue with the sense of roundedness and urgency that it deserves.

The film starts off as a tourism brochure for the state of Gujarat, Kutch to be more specific. United Colours of Uttarayan and a race to retrieve a kite introduce Rashmi (Pannu) as a powerhouse runner and also show her facing the question she later appears to be permanently saddled with—is she a girl or a boy?

Later, we are told that she has given up racing, what with the memories of a tragedy endured during Gujarat earthquake still haunting her. An Army officer turned beau turned husband Gagan (Priyanshu Painyuli) makes her take to the track again and she literally sets it on fire.

Heartburn and jealousy of fellow athletes and villainy of the officials follow. The familiar “small-town girl makes it big in athletics” trope gets a change of direction when a slyly commissioned gender test goes against her, and she has to eventually take the battle for justice to court.

Soon enough, Rashmi Rocket becomes an uneasy mix of a sports film and a courtroom drama.

For the underdog tale that it is, Rashmi Rocket is far from inspiring. It left me feeling distanced and uncaring. This, despite Taapsee giving it her all, whether it’s the athleticism, the body language or the gravitas in her demeanor.

Other than her, there are barely any other full-blown characters/actors of consequences. Each one of them is cursorily-written, executed, and performed. So even dependable ones like Supriya Pathak as the mother or Varun Badola in the role of the villainous official or Supriya Pilgaonkar as the judge or Painyuli are not able to help much with their presence.

There are several possible emotional tugs, be it the father-daughter, mother-daughter relationships or Rashmi’s equation with Gagan. But not one of them has one invested or empathetic.

Most of the films these days don’t just ride on the strong shoulders of the lead actors. It takes an entire team of the so-called character artistes or supporting actors, often in minute roles, to carry a film through. Unfortunately, Rashmi Rocket is a sum total of some badly handled moments and sloppily mounted scenes, their cringe value further accentuated by bad acting.

From the high-strung first scene of the police raid to the crucial scene involving the gender test, it’s about not being able to get the tone or tenor right.

Even the flavour of the times, Abhishek Banerjee, can’t come out of the film with flying colours. As Rashmi’s lawyer, he is either utterly self-conscious of “acting” or is hamming badly or both. The judge in the court scene warns his character for being over the top and indulging in ‘dialoguebaazi’ and then herself goes all ‘filmi’ saying lines like “all the best Rocket” to Rashmi. The scene clearly has aspirations of being a giddy one like those in the Jolly LLB movies but fails to come anywhere near it.

Similarly, the gang of girl athletes can’t recreate the Chak De! India team magic even though its aura may loom large over it.

More than anything else, it’s the handling of the complex issue of gender testing that leaves a lot to be desired. Neither is there an effort to go beyond the surface and inform, enlighten and sensitize the viewers with depth of knowledge, nor does it to pack in a strong emotional punch.

The defined perceptions of femininity and role-playing is what a majority of women have to fight with in life. They keep squaring up to it in their choice of clothes and the length of hair, with the increased testosterone in their blood due to PCOD (polycystic ovarian disease) and many may have even ended up being dismissed as “not woman enough” for their refusal to bear kids.

In light of that, it felt odd to see Rashmi Rocket falling back on all the usual visual clichés, the convenient pant-versus-frock binary for instance. The film can’t be brave enough to avoid having the heroine dance. In a totally pointless song-n-dance sequence, she wears sports shoes with ghaghra to prove a progressive point.

I wonder if it only ended up underscoring our biases and preconceptions further. Should pant, frock, ghaghra and sports shoes matter? Can gender-bending get this simple?

(Rashmi Rocket is playing on Zee 5)

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