It’s hard to imagine a feel-good movie about hyperandrogenism among women in sport. The messy and evolving debate about whether female athletes who have higher than stipulated testosterone levels have an unfair advantage over their competitors isn’t what we might associate with an upbeat and neatly ordered fairy tale.
As it confidently dashes to the finishing line, Rashmi Rocket makes sure to remove any hurdles that might confuse or alienate viewers. Akarsh Khurana’s movie, which is out on Zee5, is stacked with a doughty heroine, a charming supporting cast, light comedy, and a rousing score. The 129-minute movie skims the surface, but nevertheless manages to leave a mark.
Rashmi is played by Taapsee Pannu, delivering one of her most focused performances since 2018’s Manmarziyaan. Although Pannu’s modish Rashmi is nobody’s idea of what used to be called a tomboy in the old days, she is considered to have ticked some of the conventional boxes. She prefers pants to skirts, is outspoken and lashes back when attacked.
Renowned in her village in Bhuj as a “rocket” for her sprinting speed, Rashmi is persuaded to hone her rough-edged talent by Army major and coach Gagan (Priyanshu Painyuli). Love too has something to do with the dashing Gagan’s interest in Rashmi – an early indication of the film’s departure from the champions Dutee Chand and Caster Semenya, who have clearly inspired events. Both athletes have faced and battled bans over hyperandrogenism, and both identify as lesbian.
Feminine in the prescribed manner from every angle, Rashmi is nevertheless targetted by her detractors after she achieves glory on the track. A woman who runs so fast must have extra testosterone, her scheming rivals conclude. Humiliated by an intrusive gender test and banned from the sport, Rashmi is supported by Gagan and the earnest lawyer Eeshit (Abhishek Banerjee).
Matters end up in the courtroom, that reliable zone in the movies where complex issues can be boiled down to easily digestible arguments. Faced with a no-nonsense judge (Supriya Pilgaonkar) and a suave opponent (Zafar Karachiwala), Eeshit works hard to prove that Rashmi is indeed a woman.
The confection is based on a story by Nanda Periyasamy and a principal screenplay by Aniruddha Guha (Kanika Dhillon is credited with additional screenplay.) Light on its feet and often as fleet as Rashmi, the movie cruises along on the strength of several heart-warming scenes (many of them involving Rashmi’s tough-loving mother Bhanu), a foot-tapping folksy score by Amit Trivedi, and basic insights into the debate over hyperandrogenism that continues to rage in all manner of sport.
Apart from emphasising that gender tests are possibly outdated, Rashmi Rocket 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.
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 movie. If Rashmi Rocket has a second heroine, it’s Supriya Pathak Kapur’s Bhanu, who deals her daughter the tough hand that the movie refuses to.