Some movies leave you wanting to mention it to friends as a fun diversion from their day, but once in a while a film comes along that will leave you yelling its name from the rooftops. Now, admittedly, that’s a tough sell when the movie’s title is RRR — people are likely to confuse your aggressive raves for the mad rambling of a demented pirate — but however you manage it, expect to be giddily sharing your love for the film to everyone within earshot for weeks afterward. This is an action spectacle that will have you alternating between jaw-drops, big smiles, and tears of joy, and it’s the epitome of a film that benefits from enjoying it on the biggest screen possible.
It’s early in the 20th century, and the sun is threatening to set on the British Empire. Their rule in India is being shaken by rumblings of revolt, but rural skirmishes lead to urban brawls when a British general (Ray Stevenson) and his despicable wife abduct a young girl from a remote village. The local’s go-to strong man, Komaram Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.), heads to Delhi to rescue the child only to find resistance in an unlikely place — a fellow Indian named Rama Raju (Ram Charan). Raju is a police officer motivated by a desire for promotion, and capturing Bheem would secure his rise through the ranks. A complication rears its head, though, when the two men become fast friends wholly unaware of the other’s true identity.
RRR — a gRRReat abbreviation for “Rise Roar Revolt” — is an epic the likes of which Western audiences see far too infrequently. Hollywood studios wouldn’t dream of attempting even half of what S.S. Rajamouli‘s wildly ambitious twelfth feature knocks out of the park, but that’s part of what makes the film such an overwhelming success. Action set-pieces mixing spectacular visuals with the ridiculous, a bromance pairing heroic bloodshed with genuine playfulness, and a blistering pace that sees the three-hour running time fly by all make for the most entertaining and thrilling spectacle you’re likely to see this year.
A product of India’s burgeoning “Tollywood” film sector — its more familiar “Bollywood” sibling sits to the north — this Telugu-language blockbuster sees Rajamouli following up his record-breaking Baahubali: The Conclusion with another historical action-epic designed to pummel viewers with unrelenting thrills. RRR‘s script, a collaboration between Rajamouli and Vijayendra Prasad, threads historical characters and events through the eye of an action-oriented hurricane. Bheem and Raju were real-life Indian revolutionaries who fought against British rule, but don’t take that to mean the film is any more historically accurate than something like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012). This is instead an alternate history, of sorts, presenting a world where very real British tyrants are challenged by heroes immune to the laws of physics, where an abundance of cg animals exit a truck like clowns spilling out of a tiny car at the circus, and where an endlessly stunning dance number leaves antagonists on the floor and audiences on their feet.
Those only familiar with India’s Bollywood output might be surprised to see that RRR keeps its in-movie songs to an absolute minimum. One character sings during a serious sequence, but rather than explode into dance the song is instead a call for the downtrodden to rise. Another song plays over a montage showcasing Bheem’s and Raju’s burgeoning friendship, and scenes of the pair goofing off, sharing a motorcycle ride, and more are overlaid with self-aware lyrics wondering if “this friendship will break” when the truths are revealed and that “it’s yet to be seen if this will end in bloodshed.” Spoiler, it is.
The film’s highlight, though — one of many, many highlights if we’re being honest — is a dance that kicks off with Bheem being ridiculed by some pompous Brits for not knowing the flamenco. Bheem and Raju step up with a dance-off built on the popular “Naatu Naatu” song that sees them going toe to toe with everyone else and each other. It’s a ridiculously thrilling and emotionally invigorating sequence, and if you’ll excuse the first-person intrusion, it’s one that left me tearing up at the combination of joy, athleticism, vitality, and pride. A dance scene, yes, but one that also serves as courtship, as a commentary on colonization, and as a powerful sequence of male bonding.
Both lead characters have a special lady in their lives, Raju with a love back home and Bheem building a romance with Jenny (Olivia Morris) from the colonist block, but the bromance between them is the connection that powers the film. From their first meeting — a cheerworthy jaw-dropper that sees them team up to save a young boy — to the montage celebrating their friendship, the pair find visible pleasure in each other’s company. When the inevitable truths come out that bond is challenged in ways reminiscent of Hong Kong classics like City on Fire (1987) and The Killer (1989) while still allowing room for surprises and themes of its own. Both Rao and Charan understand exactly what’s needed from their characters and deliver performances that bounce beatifically from the silly to the sincere, and from the intense to the incredibly over the top.
For viewers caring mostly (or only) about its action scenes, rest assured that Rajamouli packs numerous and unforgettable set-pieces into RRR. From an early brawl pitting Raju against a hundred men to a forest battle set against the backdrop of burning trees and equally fiery rage, the action here finds inspiration in the Fast & Furious School of Physics while still delivering beautiful imagery and breathtaking beats. CG is a frequent tool in the film’s arsenal, and while the digital quality varies it’s always in the service of something extraordinary. A scene where Bheem grabs a motorcycle out of mid-air and proceeds to wield it as a weapon is a perfect example — it’s nonsense, but it is glorious nonsense all the same.
RRR has some important observations to make regarding what makes a people truly powerful, and it reminds us more than once about the perceived value of a bullet. The British argument is that an Indian person’s life is worth less than the cost to produce and transport a single bullet, and the locals in turn find themselves assigning a high value to guns to be used to fight back. The weaponries’ worth isn’t wholly dismissed by the time the end credits roll, but an important truth is revealed regarding the value and power of a person’s — or people’s — will to stand strong. It may not be an original conceit, but it’s no less effective or affecting in its observation.
They couldn’t be more different, but RRR is a terrific pairing with the new American film Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) as both see viewers gifted with cinematic brilliance. Each is an epic in its own way, both overflowing with emotion and creativity, and each is an absolute blast guaranteed to leave viewers changed for the better. Keep your eyes, mind, and heart open, and you’ll see that it’s always a golden age at the movies if you know where to look.
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