Sex verification is said to the cause of acute mental trauma among female athletes. In 2001, swimmer Pratima Gaonkar reportedly committed suicide after disclosure and public commentary on her failed sex verification test. Santhi Soundarajan, who won the silver medal in 800 m at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, failed the sex verification test and was reportedly stripped of her medal. Another athlete, Dutee Chand, was dropped from the 2014 Commonwealth Games at the last minute after the Athletic Federation of India stated that hyperandrogenism made her ineligible to compete as a female athlete. She appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and won an interim judgment in mid-2015. In February 2016, it was made known that the IOC would not impose a maximum testosterone level for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Dutee Chand’s victory is the only silver lining in this dark chapter in Indian sports history. Rashmi Rocket can be said to be inspired by Dutee Chand’s story in the sense that the central character here too fights a case against the Indian sports body citing violation of her human rights.
Rashmi (Taapsee Pannu) is a natural athlete who has been running faster than anyone in her village since her childhood. She gave up running due to a personal tragedy but takes it up again at the instance of her beau Captain Thakur (Priyanshu Painyuli), an athletics coach in the Indian Army. She wins every race at the district and state level and later is given a chance to prove her mettle at the international level by Indian selectors. Though she isn’t classically trained and finds it hard to adhere to the norms at first but later learns the ropes quickly enough to qualify for a place in the Indian team. She wins medals at both the individual and team levels for India but her victory proves short-lived as she’s subjected to a random gender test and is found to have higher testosterone levels than permitted. She’s humiliated by a partisan press and is totally heartbroken. Her beau proposes marriage, which she accepts and wants to fade off into the solace of domesticity. Eeshit (Abhishek Banerjee), a human rights lawyer, enters her life at this point and coaxes her to file a case, stating that she won’t be doing it just for herself but for hundreds of female athletes who have been done in by archaic laws. She agrees to the fight and as the case progresses, corruption and conspiracy come stumbling out of the woodwork …
The film takes a stand that sports committees, instead of going on a witch hunt against their own athletes, should adopt a more humanitarian approach to such cases. They should support the sportswomen in their fight for justice not only in India but also in the international arena. Branding a woman as a man is bound to hurt her mental wellbeing, tarnish her reputation, and would strip her of endorsement deals as well. The film should be lauded for clearly stating that such tests are totally unfair to female athletes and should be repealed. Rashmi gets manhandled by cops, is treated as a criminal by the authorities and begins to question her very existence because of that. The film also shows that strong support by the family is needed at this point. Despite the admirable support of husband, her mother, friends and relatives, Rashmi still feels vulnerable at times. She isn’t at fault at all and yet feels like an outcast. The pain and suffering she undergoes is real indeed and kudos for Taapsee for bringing that out through her power-packed performance. The actress is the soul of the film. She went through an incredible physical transformation to look like a top level athlete. But more than the physicality, it’s the portrayal of the sheer mental harassment, mental exhaustion, that must be praised. It’s as real as it gets and then some. Bravo, Taapsee! The other actor who must be mentioned is Abhishek Banerjee. His Eeshit is the soul of integrity who makes up for his lack of courtroom etiquette with the passion he displays. He’s fighting the case because he sees the unfairness of it all and like a prize-fighter keeps his head down and keeps swinging his fists till the bell rings. Priyanshu Painyuli offers solid support as the Rashmi’s pillar of strength who goes out of his way to cheer her up and gets her running again. Cameos by ever dependable Varun Badola, Supriya Pathak and Manoj Joshi further add to the film’s charm.
The court case is overly dramatic, though the film’s writers are woke enough to take a dig at that too. The sub-plot consisting of a corrupt official using underhand antics feels hastily sketched. And we don’t know why Taapsee’s original complexion wasn’t retained in the film as the false tan doesn’t feel natural. But these are minor glitches in a film which raises crucial points. Female athletes should be treated more humanely and better facilities and pay grades be provided to them. Gender identity is the larger issue it raises. It’s up to an individual to identify with a certain gender and no one should question that. We’re slowly becoming more inclusive as a society and Rashmi Rocket will surely add positive vibes to that debate.