RRR came heavily recommended by a number of cinephile correspondents. I was interested in checking it out at my local multiplex until I saw the three-hour runtime and noped right out of there. Oh, but what’s that? The film is now on Netflix so I can take whatever this is at my own pace? Sounds great, let’s do it. What have we got?
With a budget of 550 crore (roughly $72 million in US dollars), RRR is the most expensive movie in the illustrious history of India’s film industry. Gotta hand it to the Indians, they sure as hell know how to get the most bang for their buck — a three-hour movie of this scale would cost at least twice as much if it was made here in the States. Anyway, the title is supposedly an acronym for “Rise, Roar, Revolt”. Though I’ve been informed that it might also stand for “Rajamouli, Rama Rao, Ram Charan”, respectively the writer/director and two lead actors.
Our stage is set in 1920, against the backdrop of UK-occupied India. The catalyst of the story is Malli (Twinkle Sharma), a young native girl kidnapped by the British Governor Scott and his wife (respectively played by goddamn Ray Stevenson and Alison Doody) to be kept as a pet. In response, Malli’s tribe deploys Komaram Breem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.) to track down Malli and bring her back. Now, the governor knows that someone is coming for Malli, but doesn’t know the first thing about who it is or how to identify them. Thus a challenge is issued to undertake the impossible task of finding and capturing this mystery man in return for a post as a special officer in the royal military.
Enter Alluri Sitarama Raju, typically known as “Ram”, played by Ram Charan. Ram is an officer with the royal military, and demonstrably the most capable man on the force. Yet he keeps getting passed over for promotions because he isn’t white. Thus Ram sets out with the plan of integrating himself with the local revolutionaries so he can find and befriend Breem before capturing him and securing his promotion.
I hasten to add that in Ram’s introductory scene, he’s shown taking on a mob of a thousand angry protesters, singlehandedly kicking their asses so hard that he forces them all to disperse. Shortly afterward, Breem is introduced wrestling a goddamn tiger into submission. And these are the two characters forming our core friendship with the underlying question of when and how they’ll inevitably turn on each other. It’s like a macho bromance between Superman and Hercules.
At this point, you may be asking what Ram’s motivation is. What could possibly push an Indian man to such superhuman extremes, committing such terrible acts of violence against his own people, all in the service of an empire that’s oppressing his people and a military that refuses to reward him for his feats? Well, that’s a very long story and I don’t want to get into spoilers. Suffice to say that while Breem is out to rescue a girl, Ram’s playing a much longer game and for much bigger stakes.
It’s important to note that Komaram Breem and Alluri Sitarama Raju were both real-life revolutionaries active in resisting British colonial rule, but the two of them never actually met. In fact, the film opens with a disclaimer explicitly stating that this is a work of fiction. Followed by another disclaimer stating that no animals were harmed in the making of production and all the animals onscreen are CGI.
Putting those two disclaimers right up front gives the film a lot of leeway for all its silliness.
If you’ve ever complained about nonsensical Hollywood pictures that value spectacle over everything else, you ain’t never seen a production out of India. This three-hour movie is padded to the gills with extraneous musical numbers and overlong action set pieces, all of which only serve to drag the narrative down. But they’re so much goofy over-the-top fun to sit through.
On top of all that, the film is unabashedly a work of Indian nationalist propaganda. In terms of portraying actual historical figures as two-dimensional caricatures in a clear-cut “good vs. evil” dynamic, this movie is only a few steps removed from goddamn America: The Motion Picture. Not only is it ridiculous, but it’s jingoistic to the point where it shouldn’t even work for an international audience. How could this possibly work for an audience that has no knowledge or emotional investment in Indian history?
Well, first of all, this is a movie in which a main character swings a freaking motorcycle one-handed to clear a mob of faceless baddies. That’s awesomely ridiculous in any language. In point of fact, the basic story of native underdogs fighting against a vast and powerful invading force is a basic concept with universal appeal. And for how over-the-top cartoonish this whole movie is, it goes all-out with themes of racism, class disparity, and what patriotism really means in an occupied nation. Remember, this is a movie that opens with a brown child abducted into slavery by a powerful white family, just before the same child’s mother is beaten to a bloody pulp in front of her daughter.
The action scenes do not shy away from blood, with many gruesome kills and hardcore fight sequences. No joke, every single action sequence in this picture feels like the climax. Every half-hour, I was left with the question of why the film was still going and how the film could possibly top itself, and then the next action scene happens! More than anything else, this is what kept me going through the overlong runtime — the whole movie is so utterly bonkers, I was enthralled by the prospect of seeing what was going to happen next and how the filmmakers could possibly top themselves.
That said, the action scenes result in terrible inconsistency with regards to what our main characters can do and sustain. It bears repeating that our main characters were introduced fighting a sprawling mob of hostiles and wrestling a tiger — after that, there’s not much of anything that could plausibly impede them. To wit: The same character who couldn’t get out of iron shackles in one scene is perfectly capable of ripping a locked prison door out of its goddamn hinges in the next. We’ve also got a character who clearly gets stabbed in the fucking lungs and keeps on fighting like nothing happened, but then he gets punctured in his side and that’s somehow enough to seriously injure him. It’s arbitrary nonsense.
Everyone in the cast — from Rama Rao and Charan, to Winstone and Doody, all the way down to the last background extra — is chewing the scenery like it’s about to go stale. Special mention is due to Olivia Morris, here playing the only sympathetic white person in the entire cast. She’s also a potential love interest for Breem and someone he could potentially use to rescue Malli, and their romance arc is a neat variation on the deceptive yet affectionate Breem/Ram relationship that powers the overall film.
For better or worse, RRR doesn’t do anything halfway. Whether it’s railing against the evils of racism and colonialism, or whether the characters are taking part in some hugely elaborate dance sequence, or whether a platoon of British soldiers are getting mauled by crappy animal-shaped CGI, the filmmakers completely and unreservedly commit to everything on the screen. It’s the kind of film that wants to talk about huge systemic issues, yet conveys them by way of unambiguous heroes fighting against the one douchebag villain whose death would resolve everything.
It’s stupid and it’s bloated, but it’s fun. Streaming is definitely the way to go for this one.