Taapsee Pannu fires up 'Rashmi Rocket'
The Bollywood star spoke with City Times about the unconventional sports drama releasing October 15 on ZEE5 Global.
One of Bollywood’s brightest young stars, Taapsee Pannu, who impressed us with hard-hitting and women-centric films like Thappad and Pink, has taken on yet another challenging role, that of an athlete — Rashmi Vira — from Kutch, India, who is blessed with incredible speed as a runner. However, the journey to fulfill her dreams is not without hurdles, and she ends up fighting a personal battle for respect, honour and identity.
Rashmi Rocket is a film that tackles some important issues of gender and identity in the field of sports which perhaps as audience members we rarely or never get to see.
It’s yet another feather in the cap for Taapsee, who went through some rigorous training and was put on a strict diet and fitness regime to play the role of Rashmi, a process she called “exhausting, both mentally and physically”.
Directed by Akarsh Khurana and made in collaboration with Ronnie Screwvala’s RSVP and Mango People Media, Rashmi Rocket also stars Priyanshu Painyuli as Rashmi’s husband, and Abhishek Banerjee who plays the lawyer fighting her case when she is banned from competing due to high testosterone levels.
In a Zoom interaction, Taapsee told us more about filming Rashmi Rocket, the intense preparation that went into her role and what she hopes the audience takes away from the film.
Rashmi Rocket is a sports drama with a difference in that it challenges stereotypes and gender testing in the system. What was it about the script that first attracted you and were you hesitant in any way before taking on this rather groundbreaking role?
What attracted me to Rashmi Rocket was that it’s a sports-based issue that I was not aware of and was very shocked about, because I love sports and I believed that I knew quite a bit. But when it comes to this, I did not know enough.
So that’s why I wanted to be the medium through which the audience can actually get to know this part of sports, which is extremely gender biased I feel, when it comes to gender testing.
That became a major reason for me to do the film and the only thing I was hesitant about was whether I would be able to look like an athlete who has extra testosterone levels in the body. Nothing else.
It’s a very hard-hitting tale that could happen to anyone who is an aspiring athlete. In preparing for this role, what are the moments that stood out and what was the most challenging aspect?
I think every day after the training was done, I used to thank my stars that I was only doing it for the film, and I’m not an athlete in real life, because it was just so exhausting!
It was exhausting both physically and mentally — physically, of course, because it requires that kind of training, mentally because you really don’t know how your muscles are going to react, and if they are not giving 100 per cent, what do you do to make them give 100 per cent. You think about the kind of injuries that happen, and the fear of injuries that can happen; the timing of going up and down every day plays in your head.
It’s very exhausting to be in the shoes of an athlete, so it was definitely not the most comfortable role to do. Probably the toughest, actually.
Was preparing for the role eye-opening in many ways? What did you learn from this entire experience?
It was eye-opening to see that side of an athlete. You only see it as an audience — how they win accolades. The story is very different when you are on the other side.
It was eye-opening also because you get to know the kind of humiliation a person can feel — getting so many accolades and medals and then being totally sidelined due to something that’s not in your control — your hormones.
So it was very heartbreaking to see that the same institution that puts you up there on the pedestal just throws you down very badly when something of this sort happens.
I think Rashmi was extremely strong; I don’t know if I would have been able to do anything of the sort in real life. So it was definitely an aspirational character for me to do because she’s way too strong for me to feel that I could have done it for real.
Sports other than cricket are slowly gaining the respect and recognition they deserve in India and coming into the spotlight. Do you feel this film will increase awareness in a way of a runner’s life? What is the ultimate message you want viewers to take away?
I wish it brings attention to runners’ lives. As a film I don’t think we have control over changing things drastically, but we definitely would want conversations to start which can result in change.
So with Rashmi Rocket, I would really want my audience primarily to take away the idea of identity, where nobody should be telling you who you are. You should never have to prove it to anyone and you should own your identity. Nobody should tell you how much womanhood is enough womanhood, or how much of being a man is rightfully so.
Inspirational films about the triumph of the human spirit are always special. Did you relate to your character in any way personally?
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t really think I am that strong, but I definitely have a love for running. Maybe I was just born with a certain kind of love for running or speed. I might not be as fast as Rashmi or the athletes that we have but I was always good at athletics while I was growing up. So that is probably the only way that I identify with Rashmi.
Rashmi Rocket is releasing on OTT - do you feel a big screen release would have been ideal since it’s a sports drama?
(I’m okay with) whatever medium is available for the audience to see the film, because in such a situation where all theatres are not open across India, this became the only medium and I didn’t want to delay it any further or let it eat into the space of my other films that are lined up. So this was the best way to release Rashmi Rocket at this time.
Rashmi Rocket releases October 15 on ZEE5 Global.