Bollywood film 'Rashmi Rocket' tackles controversial gender testing of women in sport

Taapsee Pannu plays an Indian sprinter whose career comes to a halt after she's diagnosed with a condition that affects her testosterone levels

In Bollywood film Rashmi Rocket, actress Taapsee Pannu plays a rising sports star whose career is threatened when she's forced to undertake a gender test after she displays high testosterone levels.

Gender verification has long been a controversial subject in sports, with many critics saying tests are arbitrary and psychologically damaging to athletes.

Rashmi Rocket's plot, which is about the protagonist's court battle for redemption, has been compared to the story of Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, who in 2015 won a landmark ruling on gender tests after she took the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to court.

Chand, a national champion and an Asian Games bronze medallist, was banned from the sport after she refused to subject herself to "corrective" treatment – that includes hormone suppression therapy and sometimes even genital surgery – prescribed by the IAAF, International Olympic Committee and other leading sports bodies.

Chand, who was diagnosed with hyperandrogenism – a condition that that causes the production of high testosterone levels – fought the ban, eventually leading the Court of Arbitration for Sport to suspend the controversial regulation for two years, allowing her to compete again.

But Rashmi Rocket's writer Aniruddha Guha has denied the film was inspired by Chand, saying it was "a tribute to several sportswomen around the world who’ve had to undergo gender testing and bear the social and psychological ramifications that come attached with this archaic practice".

"It’s slightly reductive to find the mention of a gender test in a film and assume that it’s based on a specific person, because there is so much more to that person than this one thing that took place in their life," Guha told News18. "Dutee is a national icon, and I hope to see her story on screen one day. However, Rashmi Rocket is not that story."

Still, the fact remains that the controversial practice of gender testing has ruined many sporting careers. Indian sprinter Santhi Soundarajan was stripped of her silver medal won at the 2006 Asian Games after failing a sex verification test. In 2007, Soundarajan was rushed to a hospital in her home state of Tamil Nadu after a reported suicide attempt.

Incidentally, Melwyn Crasto, who trained Pannu for her role in Rashmi Rocket, had earlier given Chand a job at Central Railway as a ticket-checker.

"Dutee was 17 years old when I approached her and offered her a job. She latched on to it on the spot because a job is so important for athletes from small towns and villages," Crasto tells The National.

Born to a poor family, the job security allowed her to focus on the sport and be crowned national champion at the age of 18, Crasto says.

Within two years, the hyperandrogenism controversy would lead to her missing both the Commonwealth and Asian Games.

"There was this lawyer lady [Payoshni Mitra] who helped her a lot and is now in UK. Dutee wanted to compete at the nationals badly, but I had to explain it to her that she was banned from all competitions," Crasto recalls.

"[After the case] she won accolades for us, but the chief minister of her home state Orissa [Naveen Patnaik] asked the Central Railway to relieve her from the five-year contract she had with us. As her coach, me and my employers had her best interests at heart, so we made an exception. I signed off on her move. She has got a higher post now at Coal Mining Corporation."

Asked if the producers of Rashmi Rocket had indicated to Crasto that they knew about his relationship with Chand, the coach said: "I would think so. I told them about my background when we first met."

Bollywood actor and producer Anil Kapoor, as well as director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, who helmed a biopic about the late Indian sprinter Milkha Singh, have reportedly approached Chand for a potential film about her life.

Chand is still the fastest woman in India with a personal best of 11.17 seconds.

Scroll through the gallery below for stills from the film Rashmi Rocket

Updated: October 15th 2021, 7:40 AM