Rashmi Rocket, despite its predictability, asks the right questions

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Rashmi Rocket, despite its predictability, asks the right questions

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Rashmi Rocket is now part of a long line of Indian films that have belatedly taken to the country’s lesser sports. Hockey, Football, Boxing, Kabaddi, Running, if there is a sport that can be aestheticize into a frenzy of sweat and effort, it’s a likely candidate for a film of its own.

Given this new-age, yet predictable filmmaking, most our sports films are largely about victories, be it on the field or subsequently, off it. Sushant Singh Rajput’s Chhichhore, for example, was a battle against mental health, symbolically fought in the middle of a track and field tournament. In a country where sport – except Cricket – is hardly considered a career the plethora of sports films vying for our attention is a strange phenomenon. Moreover, no film has so far questioned or critiqued the very nature of sport, of how it can also be exclusionary and marginalise a chosen few. Taapsee Pannu’s latest film Rashmi Rocket, though predictable, belatedly asks an important question – who exactly is a woman?

Taapsee Pannu’s latest film Rashmi Rocket, though predictable, belatedly asks an important question – who exactly is a woman?

Pannu plays Rashmi, a gifted young girl from Gujarat who can run faster than the boys in her village. Expectedly Rashmi has high aspirations to represent India in some of the top track and field events around the world. Her talent is recognised by colonel Gagan, a loving and restrained Priyanshu Painyuli who really ought to be looked at for broader roles.

After she sets the tracks on fire Rashmi is bureaucratically weeded out by an archaic law that considers testosterone levels in the bloodstream as a measure of gender. After a few detours and distractions Rashmi is convinced by the naïve lawyer, Eeshit – a terrific Abhijit Banerjee – to take the matter to court. What follows is largely predictable, as is the nature of the Indian sports film which in this case is also a courtroom drama.

Pannu, who has already played too many resolute women in her career, finds some nuance in the physicality of her role. Because she has a supportive husband and an endearingly implausible support system, Rashmi, unlike Pannu’s other roles, doesn’t have to carry a lot of weight herself. Playing her mother, Supriya Pathak is a touch of class and casually shoulders above everyone else in the ensemble. Priyanshu’s role, as an army man litigating against the rules of a state he has vowed to defend is handled with subtlety. He doesn’t get to critique the system, and under his calm demeanour there is probably a man who understands how the world, unfortunately, works. Of all the cast members the most fun in the film is had by Abhijit Banerjee. As Eeshit, Banerjee first gives the impression of a miscast activist-lawyer, for his slacker role in Stree, and his chilling turn in Pataal Lok are so iconic it’s hard to suddenly see in Banerjee’s unconventional mannerisms, a moral core.

Pannu, who has already played too many resolute women in her career, finds some nuance in the physicality of her role.

Surprisingly, once Banerjee starts going, he robs every scene he is in from the others. At some point in the latter half of the film, so defining is his presence on-screen that this battle becomes about him rather than the protagonist. You just wish he takes on a few other similar cases so we can see Eeshit, nervously haggling through information, mispronouncing names, and continuously fumbling his lines. It’s adorable and yet it is somewhat undermined by the cathartic end the film is always teasing us with.

For a film that asks a fundamental question – what constitutes a woman – it employs rather clichéd methods towards elaborating on it. A cameo by the otherwise lovely Shweta Tripathi is a faux-pas of casting. For a drama about the question of identity, there is too much focus in the end, on establishing the genius of the athlete. This story is likely inspired by the tale of Indian runner Dutee Chand, but if you have heard hers, it is probably the one you’d prefer as well.

This story is likely inspired by the tale of Indian runner Dutee Chand, but if you have heard hers, it is probably the one you’d prefer as well.

Rashmi Rocket for its progressive outlook doesn’t really articulate itself as well. There are though, some subtle firsts. The fact that Rashmi and her colonel boyfriend are in a live-in relationship, isn’t turned into another stigma. In fact, it is seamlessly absorbed by the characters of this world. It’s a generational first perhaps and gives an otherwise straightforward film, a touch of audacity.

While most actors in the ensemble pull their weight, the film is let down, especially in the one department that should have maybe, concerned itself with the organic rather than the theatric. None of Taapsee’s co-runners look like athletes, a far cry, both in terms of class and creed, from the athletes that regularly represent India at international events. Other than these false notes, and a patently formulaic strip that we have all as viewers been down before, Rashmi Rocket packs quite the sprint. Foremost in asking a question that maybe doesn’t just apply to sport, but life and society in general.

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