June 22nd 2021 was a pivotal day in Indian cinema. On this date, an Indian subscription video-on-demand and over-the-top streaming service was launched in America – Zee5. With Amazon Prime, Disney+, Netflix, I honestly wondered about the potential of Zee5 and if it had longer legs to compete with a few of the biggest studios in America. However, after watching Rashmi Rocket, I am confident that Zee5 is genuinely making an effort to showcase a diverse catalog of culturally relevant entertainment across the South-Asian diaspora.
Directed by Akarsh Khurana, Rashmi Rocket is an Indian fictional film based on actual struggles faced by Indian sportswomen around controversial gender testing. Rashmi Vira (Taapsee Pannu) is a small-town tomboyish girl from Bhuj, Gujrat, who has a knack for sprinting fast. However, that is not the only aspect that differentiates Rashmi from her peers. She also has an unusually high amount of testosterone compared to other women. Thus, despite international recognition for India, her credibility is slammed after she falls victim to archaic gender testing. The media tagged her as a fraud. The film’s crux is exposed when Eeshit Mehta (Abhishek Banerjee), a lawyer committed to fighting against the age-old practice of gender testing, reaches out to Rashmi expressing his desire to represent her in court. After some hesitation and unwavering support from her mother Bhanuben (Supriya Pathak), and her husband, Major Gagan Thakur (Priyanshu Painyuli), she decided to challenge the Association in court.
Just like every other film, Taapsee Pannu has sunk her teeth into this character exceptionally well. Her preparation for the role is evident from the transformation in her body. So much so that she even received trolls on social media for looking masculine when she had posted her picture on Instagram without intending it to be a promotion for her film. Priyanshu Painyuli plays the role of the supporting husband really well. Painyuli’s restraining mannerism matched well to that of the peculiarity of an army captain. Painyuli had to undergo training himself to ensure he suited the look of an Indian soldier. Supriya Pathak also played her part to perfection – a matriarch who is nothing but supportive to her daughter. I want to give a loud shout-out to two actors in this film. Supriya Pilgaonkar plays the role of a no-nonsense judge, and her quick-witted responses force the audience to chuckle at her tete-a-tete with the lawyer Eeshit. Speaking of Abhishek Banerjee, his role as Eeshit Mehta is a testament to the dexterity of this phenomenal actor. Despite being known for his comedic role, Banerjee played a role of a serious lawyer to the Tee. During one of his interviews, Banerjee explained that he took inspiration from Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, Mr. Bachchan in Pink, Rajkummar Rao in Shahid, and Sunny Deol in Damini.
Riding from their previous successful partnership in the film Karwaan, Akarsh Khurana (director) and Ronnie Screwvala (producer) have made an earnest effort in creating the first film that questions the archaic practice of gender-testing that has tampered with the lives of many sportswomen in India, including the lives of Santhi Soundarajan and Dutee Chand. Soundarajan failed the sex test in the 2006 Asian test, crumbling her career and making her frustrated to the extent that she attempted suicide. Dutee Chand failed the hormone test during the 2014 Commonwealth Games. However, Chand challenged the federation, eventually winning her case.
I have always maintained my stance that each ingredient of the film must be organic to the storyline regardless of its genre. In Rashmi Rocket, I am not sure if I agree that Ghani Cool Chori was absolutely needed. Moreso, because the story is still getting established, we suddenly see Taapsee breaking from her tomboy character to wear Ghagra choli and dance around. Additionally, I also thought the film was a little convenient in spoon-feeding the context of the film to the audience. In the first 20-mins, we see five people saying it out loud ‘chori hai ya chora’ looking at Taapsee. Even when it comes to costumes and make-up, I thought the film took a convenient route. At the beginning, Taapsee is the only girl wearing modern clothes in the village. Every other woman is wearing traditional clothes. Similarly, when Taapsee meets her running teammates, only her nemesis wears a sports bra and expensive track pants.
Additionally, I thought there were a few aspects that could be fleshed out better. The film touches upon a few important elements such as the gender disparity between sportsmen and sportswomen. Additionally, there was also a mention of the role of the various sports federations in India and their responsibility towards their athletes. For example, when a sportsperson wins a tournament, the sports council ensures enough media coverage for the winner. Similarly, when a sports person fails to receive glory, it should be the responsibility of the sports council to shield the sportsperson from the toxicity of the media and its repercussions.
Overall, I think Rashmi Rocket is made with great intention coupled with phenomenal actors. Given Rashmi Rocket and Zee5’s previous original programming, such as State of Siege: Temple Attack, 14 Phere, I am confident that Zee5 has longer legs in giving competition to other OTT players when it comes to curation of Indian content.
Reviewed by Puneet Ruparel