Synopsis – This ZEE5 Original film narrates the inspiring story of a small-town girl, who overcomes all societal barriers to become a national-level athlete, but her glory is hindered when she is asked to undergo a gender test.
My Take – While sports dramas continue to be the flavor of the season in Hindi cinema, this latest ZEE5 release directed and co-written by Akarsh Khurana is not just another underdog story about an ambitious individual fighting all odds to make or break the game. But instead focuses on delving deep into a lesser-known and a lesser-discussed aspect that ails sports and sportswomen around the world – gender testing.
An archaic practice that has cut-short the careers of gifted international women athletes across the world and subjected them to deep traumas often resulting in social stigmas.
Taking the lead from the lives of athletes such as Dutee Chand and Santhi Soundarajan, who were banned from participating in official competitions due to their above-average natural testosterone levels, the film, written by Nanda Periyasamy (story) with screenplay and dialogues credited to director Akarsh Khurana, Aniruddha Guha, Kanika Dhillon and Lisha Bajaj, raises pertinent questions about the regressive practice and the traditional ideas about identity, ability and competitive fairness in sports. Ironically, male athletes are not limited by their natural testosterone levels to compete.
Backed by a well sought narrative that sets off to a flying finish, despite a few occasional hurdles, the film deserves all the attention it is receiving, as the intention on the part of the makers to bring a lesser-discussed subject to the forefront remains unquestionable, and without a doubt manages to leave a mark.
The story follows Rashmi Virah Chibber (Taapsee Pannu), a tomboyish rebellion, who growing up in the small town of Kutch has always been known for her natural ability to sprint, earning her the nickname of Rocket. Though an early age tragedy forced her to give up on pursuing her talents professionally, it isn’t until she gets a decent push from her equally headstrong mother Bhanu Ben (Supriya Pathak) and Major Gagan Thakur (Priyanshu Paiyuli), an army trainer, that she sheds her personal inhibitions and competes at state-level and national-level championships.
Soon, Rashmi shoots to national fame as record breaker sprinter, much to the chagrin of some male decision makers in the Indian Athletic Association and to the envy some of her own compatriots. And when a sudden gender test reveals that she has higher level of testosterone in her blood than is permissible under the international code of athletics, it abruptly ends her career, breaking her spirit and morale, questioning her very identity as a woman.
Though the film starts slow, moving in predictable directions to establish the characters, but picking up gradually to keep you hooked till the end. Light on its feet, the film cruises along on the strength of several heart-warming scenes, a foot-tapping folksy score by Amit Trivedi, here, director Khurana works harder on the relationships, which turn out to the drama’s strongest aspect. Rashmi’s sweet romance with Gagan is both old-fashioned and modern, while her bond with her mother is the best thing in the film.
While sports dramas have ample scope of getting too dramatic, the story and screenplay here manages to keep things realistic and relatable. It is a crusade against the unjust treatment of and discriminatory practices against high performing female athletes, several of whom have either gone into oblivion or lost the battle against an unfair life.
It’s a sensitive portrayal of courage, determination, empathy, support and love that are pitted against personal interests, rigid rules and unwillingness to change. The film makes a case for how such women deserve a normal course of life and a chance to be heard. Especially, after a mere test not only ends their career but also makes them a subject of mockery and discrimination.
Yes, though the film’s execution at times becomes convenient, and apart from emphasizing that gender tests are possibly outdated, the film does not delve into deeper questions we might have about how female athletes are viewed or treated. Rashmi’s travails are based on personal rivalry, while evidence of her womanhood is provided in the broadest possible terms.
Performance wise, Taapsee Pannu once again proves her mettle, embodying Rashmi’s persona, physically and mentally. Her effort to celebrate Rashmi’s victory and endure her pain, is as real as it gets and Pannu doesn’t miss the beat when it comes to making us root for her character.
Priyanshu Painyuli is excellent as the supportive husband, and is ably supported by Supriya Pathak, Abhishek Banerjee, Akash Khurana, Varun Badola, Mantra, Miloni Jhonsa, Namita Dubey, Supriya Pilgaonkar and Shweta Tripathi. On the whole, ‘Rashmi Rocket’ is a relevant and effective sports drama uplifted by excellent performances.
Directed – Akarsh Khurana
Rated – PG
Run Time – 129 minutes