Forget “Top Gun”. “RRR” is the ultimate summer flick – explosive, uplifting and with a catchy dance beat
No description of SS Rajamouli’s action sequences in “RRR” could spoil the experience of seeing them for yourself. For example, telling you that NT Rama Rao Jr. hero Komaram Bheem swings a motorcycle over his head like it’s a laundry bag full of dry socks sounds ridiculous. But the moment you see Bheem do it, you’ve come to accept it as part of a wide range of his abilities.
This scene occurs long after Ram Charan’s Alluri Sitarama Raju has jumped into a raging crowd of workers, battling her crush to grab a man her boss demands to be arrested. Calling it that, a battle, barely covers all the femur fractures and skull crushing necessary for Raju to succeed in his task.
Even saying that leaves out the acrobatic precision Charan engages in this nearly 10-minute streak. Rajamouli has done “RRR” in a way that guarantees words will fail the power of his vision. That’s even true of talk of its three-hour, seven-minute runtime, 40 minutes of which occur before the title card first appears. None of this equals padding.
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Simply put, “RRR” is one of the best action blockbusters you’ll see this summer. That might sound like a bold rhetoric in a cinematic landscape currently dominated by “Top Gun: Maverick,” another action opus sporting its nationalism on its star’s severed biceps. In terms of revenue, “Maverick” dominates the domestic box office and is closing in on the third-highest-grossing film of 2022 at the global box office, the Chinese feature film “Water Gate Bridge.”
“RRR” may not achieve the same economic success, although its $72 million budget makes it one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, Indian films ever made. Perhaps that doesn’t matter in the larger scheme of things, as it employs the same strategy of mass appeal as Tom Cruise’s latest extravaganza while tapping into the fervor of cultural pride.
“RRR” is a film made in Telugu dubbed in Hindi for its broadcast on Netflix. In English, the title’s acronym stands for “Rise, Roar, Revolt”, shouting the expectations of pace, spectacle and explosiveness that Rajamouli exceeds.
When we don’t see our heroes in action during this 40-minute cold opener, it sets the terms for the conflict to come. And when they’re not fighting or racing down the roads together, with Bheem on his motorbike and Raju on his horse, they might be singing.
Rajamouli made ‘RRR’ in a way that guarantees words will fail the power of his vision
The crown jewel on the bright side of the story, before their friendship fell apart — which isn’t a spoiler — is the fast-paced dance number “Naatu Naatu.” It’s Bheem and Raju’s response to a racist Brit’s claim that Indians are clumsy and uneducated, demonstrated by skipping a few Eurocentric dance moves, overtaking him and all the other white people around them.
Eventually, all of the pompous white guys collapse, leaving Bheem and Raju as the last men to dance – and furiously at that.
“RRR” spreads its arms wide to incorporate several aspects of the summer blockbuster into its bear hug: it’s an action masterpiece that’s also a musical.
It’s an anti-colonialist commentary whose heroes validate the struggles of brown people across the world while distinctly elevating Indian pride. It’s a warm bromance, where the platonic friendship between the two main characters is treated with more tenderness than the warmth they show towards their love interests.
He’s also clearly nationalistic, as evidenced by his first major action sequence culminating with one of his heroes wrapping himself in the pre-independence Indian flag for protection from a burning wall.
In case it goes over our heads for most of its three hours, the final musical number, “Sholay”, punctuates this with a wild and bright dance tribute to India’s revolutionary heroes. “Fly this flag to which we gave our lives,” sings its refrain. “There is an iron man in every alley and every house. (Not everything was perfect in the release of the film. When the film was released in India earlier this year, it left out a Kannada language translation. And “Sholay” has been criticized for omitting Mahatma Gandhi from its gallery of revolutionary icons.)
Jr NTR and Ram Charan attend ‘RRR’ movie hit party on April 06, 2022 in Mumbai, India. (Prodip Guha/Getty Images)Rama Rao Jr.’s protagonist and Charan are named after two real revolutionaries of the pre-independence era although, as a wordy disclaimer before the film begins, his early 20th-century adventure is entirely fictional. This may be to allay concerns that an audience unaware of Indian history might see some of this as fact as opposed to some exaggerated trifle that is about as true as “Harley Davidson and the Man from Marlboro” or “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter”.
“RRR” features Charans Raju as an Indian police officer working for the British security forces, and his targeted brutality is driven by an obsessive urge to rise through the ranks, no matter how many fellow countrymen he has to hurt or betray to earn this feat.
But that doesn’t seem possible until he receives a mission to find a man who wants to harm the region’s British governor, Scott Buxton, played by Ray Stevenson.
The mission Raju’s career takes on doesn’t matter to him – but it does to audiences, whose first introduction to the Governor and his wife Catherine (Alison Doody, best known for playing the Nazi villain Elsa Schneider in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”) shows the Buxtons throwing a few coins at a villager to make up for running away with her daughter, Malli (Twinkle Sharma).
If there’s one fact that “RRR” nails home, it’s the monstrosity and barbarity of white colonization. In this scene, Catherine regards the young girl as a trinket – “I want to have this little bundle on our fireplace,” she whispers to her husband, fresh from slaughtering all the ungulates in the area. When Malli’s mother throws herself in the way of the governor’s motorcade, Scott delivers a pompous lecture to his soldiers which declares that the lives of his brown subjects are worth less than a bullet.
But Malli is a member of the Gond tribe and under the protection of that people’s unstoppable “shepherd”, Bheem, who has a reputation for never giving up until his lost lamb has been returned to the flock. Raju and Bheem’s first meeting is a literal clash of fire and water, but moviegoers inundated with Marvel superhero movies also recognize him as a good old team. Neither of them knows who the other is when they work together to save a child, swinging together over a river that has caught fire.
Victory in battle quickly forges an intense friendship between the men that, as the film’s first big musical number hints, is destined to end in blood.
When Americans complain about feeling every minute of a long movie, they don’t imagine Rajamouli’s interpretation of that phrase. His screenplay, a collaboration with his father, V. Vijayendra Prasad, fills each sequence with thrills while skipping over details that would explain any inconsistencies that could trigger its lead characters’ rush into an emotionally draining conjuncture.
This builds trust in audiences who understand that he is creating a saga with a strong emphasis on spectacle and relishing in spectacle, instead of narration, a style he honed in his previous hit, “Baahubali: The Beginning.” from 2015 and its 2017 sequel “Baahubali 2: The Conclusion”. If you’ve admired these marvels, you may not be surprised by some of Rajamouli’s narrative structural choices in this one.
America’s action icons may fall back on their gun show, but “RRR” responds to that image and elevates it with real-life muscle-dependent stunts.
But seeing them is not a prerequisite for understanding “RRR”. Just appreciate the director’s ability to handle visual chaos with the joy and vigor of an orchestra conductor. Rajamouli is a cinematic sensualist, something not often seen or appreciated in the action genre. It’s one thing to interrupt an elaborate “Bridgerton” style formal affair with an armed menagerie and another level altogether to feature him as a whirling dervish of fireworks, water, gymnastics and magic. CGI.
Even the dangerous effects are sculpted to accentuate the physicality each man brings to his role. The trailer gives us a taste of it, with shots of Rama Rao Jr.’s brick house physique and the enviable shine of Charan’s mane augmented by coiled flames. Cruise and other American action icons may fall back on their gun show, but “RRR” meets that image and elevates it with stunts reliant on real-life musculature.
Rajamouli liberally employs computer magic and wire throughout “RRR”; the tiger and the wolf Bheem face down wearing only short shorts are as real as this motorbike he kicks to a stop before launching it into the air. But there are a lot of things in the movie that can’t be faked, like the stars’ unreal movements in the battle scenes.
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All of this somehow makes its history-inspired fabrication authentic and universal, capturing the philosophy of ideals that make the common man great. “Our friends have come, so play the drums/Together, we sing and dance and the world rocks with us,” the lyrics of “Sholay” go, a rare moment in “RRR” that needs no exaggeration.
Raju and Bheem’s individual and combined power cannot be explained by exposure to gamma rays or other cosmic forces, scientifically engineered serums, or elite government training. Whatever extreme feats of strength, agility, and dexterity they display are the result of years of effort to press against the weight of their people’s pride and the epic mythos that permeate the culture. Indian. The references are precise, of course, but they leave the door open for the world to tune into the energy of the fable.
“RRR” is playing in theaters in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and streaming on Netflix.
Correction: After publication, the distributor clarified that “RRR” has been released in hundreds of theaters in its native Telugu and is still playing in select cities.
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