Even A Strong Taapsee Pannu Cannot Be The Wind Beneath Rashmi Rocket’s Wings

There’s nothing that I haven’t said about Taapsee Pannu’s capabilities as an actor. If you’ve ever read my work, or my tweets, you know that my love for her is unconditional. Having said that, this does not mean that if I ever do not like a performance by her, I will not criticise it. But, that seems like a farfetched, almost impossible idea. After Pink, we’ve seen Pannu playing her women with perfection. One after the other, she just keeps getting better, as do her choices in films. Look at her last outing, Thappad. I don’t think anyone could’ve done what Taapsee did with the character of Amrita. But after watching Rashmi Rocket, I wonder what went wrong. Here’s my guess: On paper, this looked like a brilliant film, to anyone it would. Because Rashmi Rocket has the potential. The idea is novel, the actors are very powerful. But it’s the execution where the film went wrong.

Early on in the film, through repeated passing comments, we hear questions on little Rashmi’s gender. She has the natural talent to run and can outrun everyone. “Chora hai ki chori” is what the villagers wonder about Rashmi. Born in a village in Kutch, Rashmi is as innocent as it can get. A small town upbringing doesn’t prepare her to face the world. So when she goes to Delhi to train at the Indian Athletics Association, jealousy and nepotism is something she doesn’t understand. There she’s put through cruel gender testing, a common practice that may have ended Indian athlete, Duttee Chand’s career. But like Chand, Rashmi puts up a fight. A genius idea, as I said, but add romance, motherhood and other “ideal” stereotypes to being a woman, and voila, you have a Hindi film! I’m not against writers and directors taking cinematic liberties, but to cut through stereotypes only to make more, that’s my problem.

Why does every “girly” character eat off the worse of Preeti Sabharwal (Chak De! India) and a tomboy is written around Komal Chautala?

It becomes a larger problem when I see someone like Taapsee Pannu headlining this film. After her initial few films, and barring the horrendous Judwaa 2, Pannu has always stood up for her rights as, both, a woman and an artist. So it comes as a shock that she would give into the stereotypes that (1) she has previously fought with her choices in films and (2) those that Rashmi fights in the first half of the film. Through Minal (Pink), Amrita (Thappad) and her other characters, Pannu has fought against so many stereotypes that we attach to women. In Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad, she fought the stereotypes of the domesticity of women by playing a homemaker. In Rashmi Rocket, Rashmi’s looks, persona is that of a tomboy. But in the second half, we see her wearing sarees. Again, nothing wrong with that. But is the domesticity of women wrapped around a saree?

What’s also shocking, and a weird turn of events here, is that Rashmi Rocket’s leading man has nothing more to do apart from offering support to the leading lady. Imagine this: We’ve gone back in time (a couple of years ago), the gender roles are reversed, Taapsee Pannu is offered the part of the “supporting wife/partner”. Would she have taken it? Perhaps not. In fact, those are the kind of roles she broke out of. Cut to today, she’s okay with her leading man doing nothing but, for the lack of a better word, offering vanity (in the name of “support”). Where does her ideology of not tolerating flowerpot roles go now?

Having said all of this, nothing takes away from the fact that Rashmi Rocket is one of Taapsee Pannu’s finest performances. Underwritten to the T, but Pannu, like always, is a very reliable actor. She gets Rashmi’s look, accent, everything on point. There’s nothing Pannu does wrong, almost ever. So here too, when she’s handed over a half baked character, she delivers. But no matter her efforts, she cannot lift the film. The inconsistent writing doesn’t allow her to do so. At times she’s expected to be tough, in other moments, Rashmi is soft. And while Pannu has the capabilities to manage these switches, Rashmi doesn’t. Also, I think we’ve seen Pannu play the “one woman against the world” character way too many times now. I would honestly love to see her as a vulnerable character.

Newcomer, Priyanshu Painyuli, plays her supporting partner. He shows true potential, but it’s (1) too soon to say and (2) his character has nothing to do to judge his acting capabilities. Passing a comment on his performance would be like judging Ananya Panday for her role in Student Of The Year 2. The supporting cast, including the wonderful Supriya Pathak and the terrific Manoj Joshi are good in their roles, but they don’t have any material to play with. Abhishek Banerjee – wonderful as the dog lover in Paatal Lok stands wasted. He plays a Hindi film lawyer, and when I say that, I mean it. At one hearing, the judge remarks, “Aap Hindi film bahut dekhte hain kya? Courtroom mein itna high drama nahin hota.”

Nothing takes away from the fact that Rashmi Rocket is one of Taapsee Pannu’s finest performances… but how is she okay with her leading man playing a flowerpot role, something she herself fought against and broke out of?

All of this brings me to director Akarsh Khurana and his team of writers – Aniruddha Guha, Lisha Bajaj (screenplay) and Kanika Dhillon (dialogues). Firstly, why could this film not have been a biopic on Duttee Chand. Maybe that way, they could’ve gotten away with many “cinematic liberties”. Secondly, what is with the inconsistency and stereotyping? A film on women empowerment cannot limit its female lead. Rashmi is lovingly called a rocket because she runs at that speed (not literally), then why does she stop when society comes in her way? And why does a “girly” athlete have to wear pink? Why does she have to be a representative of South Delhi? Why does every such character eat off the worse of Preeti Sabharwal (Chak De! India) and a tomboy is written around Komal Chautala?

In the beginning of Rashmi Rocket, even before the opening credits roll, Rashmi’s father and Rashmi tell us that effort is more important than the result. Apart from Taapsee Pannu giving this film her everything, Rashmi Rocket has neither effort, nor result.

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