Few phenomena in 2022 feel as exciting as RRR, the Tollywood film that took over Hollywood. Telling a story of Indian independence might have drawn some eyes, but RRR introduced an entire generation to what Indian cinema offers audiences. Melodrama, action, comedy, musical dance breaks, and genuine brotherhood represent some of the highlights, but more important than all of that is the genuine sense of joy. Films breakthrough when passion radiates through the screen, and RRR features that in spades. Yet, some are still on the fence about watching a three-hour musical epic. We hope to convince you to join in the fun.
RRR tells a fictionalized story of two revolutionaries. Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan Teja) works for the British as an ambitious soldier looking to improve his station. He’s a warrior with incredible hand-to-hand combat skills and fury over his father’s murder. Meanwhile, Komaram Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.) searches for a young girl stolen from his village by the British Raj (Ray Stevenson/Alison Dooby). Bheem arrives in Delhi, where he meets Jenny (Olivia Morris), a young white woman with progressive ideas. When forces alert the Raj that Bheem is a revolutionary seeking vengeance, they employ Raju to stop him. However, when Bheem and Raju meet while saving a young boy, they become fast friends, unaware they stand in opposition.
Works of historical fiction and alternate histories have long been a fascination of cinema. Pictures like Inglorious Basterds and Forrest Gump tell stories through the lens of historical fiction. Director S.S. Rajamouli does the same with RRR and makes his story a spectacle. One might compare RRR to American shows like Hamilton, if Hamilton looked like an MCU film.
On one hand, the changing history and using it for entertainment could have ramifications outside of Rajamouli’s control. Some may take the events of RRR as fact, when in reality this is far from the truth. Historians seem to indicate the men may have left an impact on one another, but they certainly did not attend a wedding while leading a dance off against white privilege.
At the same time, this is an act of celebration and reclaiming of South Asian idols. Elevating the story of these two revolutionaries to the world stage, and allowing them to take on the visual styling of action heroes is an act of subversion. While it is not new for films from India to frame their heroes and protagonists in this light, it is new for the audience that RRR has reached. This goes beyond simple representation and equality on film. Instead, it shifts the power dynamic against the oppressor. RRR openly treats the British Raj in ways that parallel Western films about Nazis in World War II or Russians in Cold War era films. As world movements, especially those in the West, continue to recognize Imperialistic tendencies of our ancestors directly led to the suffering of non-white humans, these stories become essential in changing perspective.
Beyond all the political stakes that Rajamouli crafts in RRR, the film succeeds because of our actors and character development. The partnership of Charan and NTR yields incredibly fun moments. The two actors clearly care about each other away from the set, and it translates in every sequence. As they build out their characters and revelations come to light, their emotions feel genuine. This allows RRR‘s tale of brotherhood to serve as the emotional spine of the film, allowing the audience to buy-in to the absurd action sequences that follow. Without their performances and career-best work from Rajamouli, RRR would not be the phenomena its become.
One of the beset films of 2022, RRR stands as a gateway into South Asian cinema. While its success across cultures bodes well, it needs to inspire more viewership from white audiences to create impactful change. Right now, RRR remains a pop culture fascination, but if it continues to inspire viewers to visit a new world of cinema, RRR may serve as a foundational text in the future of the artform.