During a courtroom sequence in Rashmi Rocket, the judge tells the beleaguered sprinter’s lawyer that she doesn’t know whether to get irritated or impressed by his arguments. One gets a similar feeling after watching director Akarsh Khurana’s cosmetic ode to sportswomen.
It comes across as yet another example of ‘please-all’ variety of cinema that sets out to raise an important women-centric issue, but along the way conforms to mainstream goals, diluting the impact.
The film follows the tumultuous journey of an athlete Rashmi Vira — from a Kutch village to an Asian champion — before she is banned due to the high amount of male hormone in her bloodstream, and is subjected to a humiliating gender test.
The choice of setting irks because apart from the liberal grant from Gujarat Tourism, there doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason to set the film in the State. It seems Nanda Periyasami’s story has been displaced from its roots and the disconnect is hard not to miss. The obstacles in the path of young Rashmi appear staged till the scene shifts to the national sports facility, where the sprinter soars despite jealousy and nepotism.
Khurana and his team of writers liberally take from real-life events in the lives of athletes such Dutee Chand and Santhi Soundarajan, juice them as long as it’s convenient, and then tweak the tale to make it a palatable product for consumers in the name of creative liberty.
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The disclaimer notwithstanding, you can’t ignore the palpable shadow of Dutee Chand’s case on Rashmi Rocket. She was declared ineligible to participate in the female category after a series of tests done in questionable circumstances. She successfully fought against national and international bodies for infringing her privacy and human rights, and returned to the track with elan.
After borrowing the meat and the emotional core from news stories, the writers venture into the fictional domain… and flounder. While Dutee has come out of the closet and has reportedly faced social stigma because of it, Rashmi follows the path of heterosexual love and motherhood. Even a basic Internet search would tell you the impact of high testosterone on the female body, but there is hardly any scene where Rashmi is shown grappling with it. Not even acne!
It hurts as the film makes its hero play gender roles defined for her for centuries. It becomes almost absurd when a pregnant Rashmi takes to the track. Of course, pregnant women can participate in competitive sports, but common sense tells us they don’t compromise at the beginning of their career, not least after winning three golds.
Just like high testosterone levels don’t guarantee undue advantage to female athletes, motherhood is no barometer to prove that a girl is woman enough. The makers feebly make the point, but still choose to saddle their emerging hero with motherhood, perhaps to make it wholesome entertainment for a larger audience. Or does it have to do with the Gujarati setting?
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However, amidst contrived situations and stock background music, Tapsee Pannu runs a controlled race as Rashmi. Instead of wearing the surge in hormone on her sleeve, she tries to internalise her attitude and anguish. Despite limitations in writing, as the film progresses, she doesn’t hide behind Aviator sunglasses and shows there is more to Rashmi than just Rabari tattoos.
While the track and field sequences are not consistently convincing, Akarsh handles the courtroom segment well, and makes the second half engaging. The jealousy and nepotism in the federation angle are predictable, but watchable; so is the media bashing. Dialogue writers Kanika Dhillon and Aniruddh Guha keep the lines conversational, such as when Rashmi’s lawyer and her husband discuss her violent streak during a dinner table chat, they effortlessly take us beyond the physical attributes of the athlete.
Similarly, a short, almost-silent conversation between Rashmi’s feisty mother (depicted by Supriya Pathak) and the athlete’s mentor and well-wisher played by Akash Khurana, touches a tender chord.
The supporting actors Priyanshu Painyuli, Abhishek Banerjee, Supriya Pilagaonkar, and Varun Badola pass on the baton smoothly too, but Khurana seems to have forgotten Rashmi’s father’s mantra. He relies less on effort, focuses more on the result.