Rashmi Rocket movie review: Taapsee Pannu and her film know better than this
In Taapsee Pannu’s Rashmi Rocket, the heroine gets a shocking slap on her face. Now if you, like myself, could not stop gushing about her after watching Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad, let me tell you that the similarities between the two movies end right there. While Thappad makes for textbook reading on addressing a woman’s right to respect with subtlety and consistent writing, Rashmi Rocket runs miles away from it. From the beginning to the end of the second hour, the film tries with all its might to turn you against Taapsee and her choices in films.
With random singing, choreographed dancing, comical background music, filmy dialogues and melodrama aplenty, Rashmi Rocket tells the story of a woman being stripped of her identity, shamed in public and getting physically assaulted by men. If the two halves of the previous sentence do not quite fit together, imagine my confusion upon watching two hours of it. Taapsee plays a naturally talented girl from Kutch, Rashmi, who could be the world’s next Usain Bolt… or Edward Cullen, if her fast-forwarded, vampirish running style offers any clues. She’s the town tomboy, one that men and women point at and exclaim, ‘Chorro hai ke chori?’ Except, none of it feels real, especially when these men and women are supposed to be her neighbours, who have known her since she was a child.
Watch the trailer for Rashmi Rocket:
However, Rashmi has given up on her love for running. There is a tragic backstory about a dead dad, told so comically in a flashback featuring a child actor who was definitely pacing on a treadmill. Silly as it all is, the backstory is rendered pointless 10 minutes in, when a hunky army man (played by Priyanshu Painyuli) enters Rashmi’s life and convinces her to run again. By the end of the 20th minute, Rashmi has already entered a legit race and broken all-time records.
But the bigger challenges arrive when Rashmi finally makes it to the big leagues. She arrives in Delhi to train with the Indian Athletics Association but runs into trouble. Now, unlike the story of Olympian Dutee Chand and other star athletes that this film is seemingly inspired by, director Akarsh Khurana is not satisfied with simply revealing the horrors of the system that oppressed and harassed them for years with the archaic practise of gender testing. Instead, a couple of mean girls type are called on board for added villainy. These generic South Delhi dwellers in pink athleisure, who don’t seem to have run a mile in their lives except away from the track, make Rashmi look far more like a real athlete in comparison. And like a jealous high school bully you’ve watched a million times in movies, they call her names in the cafeteria and make her look bad in front of the teachers. It’s juvenile and a tiresome watch.
Taapsee does look the part as star athlete Rashmi. However, she seems far more comfortable in showing the tomboy side of her in the opening scenes or grabbing the bully’s wrist and giving it back to her, two times over. On the track, she looks fit enough to run a relay, even if Akarsh chooses to use slow motion to ruin it all. However, the heartache doesn’t quite show through even when the training montages transition to clips of her sulking by a cliff. Taapsee has played the ‘tough one against the world’ one too many times now and I would not mind seeing her as someone more vulnerable for a change. But I believe she needs a brilliant director’s support more than I previously thought.
Priyanshu Painyuli plays the supportive spouse with a perennial smile on his face. However, it’s the kind of one-dimensional role that we might have heard Taapsee object to years ago in an interview. How, therefore, is it fair for Priyanshu to make do with the same?
Abhishek Banerjee, otherwise sensational in Paatal Lok as the dog-loving murderer, tests your patience as a foul-mouthed, dramatic lawyer, fighting Rashmi’s case against the association. At one point, the judge (played by Supriya Pilgaonkar) even tells him, “Aap Hindi film bahut dekhte hain kya? Courtroom mein itna high drama nahin hota (Do you watch a lot of Hindi films? Real courtrooms don’t have such high drama).” So clearly, Akarsh Khurana knows the rules. However, he gives them a big middle finger and lets Abhishek soak in as much courtroom dramatics as possible. There’s screaming, long speeches, building suspense, catching the culprit red-handed in the court and more theatrics that anyone who has seen more than one Bollywood courtroom drama cannot have patience for.
And Akarsh is a repeat offender in doing things despite knowing better. In the final segment of the film, the lawyer finds something that could work to his advantage in the case but Rashmi decides against using it, a rare wise decision. It almost reminds you of Taapsee’s other courtroom film Pink, when Kirti Kulhari’s Falak lies that she was an escort but still deserved respect. For 10 whole minutes Rashmi Rocket fools you into believing that it did indeed make the right choice but in the end, Akarsh just could not let go of the thick, rotund opportunity to prove how conventionally ‘woman’ Rashmi really is.
Rashmi Rocket does wish for better things for women. It makes resounding and loud calls for ending gender testing in sports, a practice that has traumatised many women over the years. However, how effective comparing women with high testosterone to Michael Phelps’ big hands will be, I am not sure.
Rashmi RocketDirector: Akarsh KhuranaCast: Taapsee Pannu. Priyanshu Painyuli, Abhishek Banerjee