After delivering epics like Magadheera, Eega, Bahubali: The Beginning, Bahubali: The Conclusion among others, SS Rajamouli returns with another mega budget spectacle, RRR fronted by Jr. NTR and Ram Charan with Alia Bhatt and Ajay Devgn in pivotal roles. The film is set in the pre-Independence era, with core conflicts created by the demons in the British Empire. Set in 1920s Delhi, the film tells the fictional story of an unlikely friendship and rivalry between two real-life revolutionaries Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem, both of whom fought against British colonial rule in the early 20th century.
The first part of the film is dedicated to introducing the two heroes, played by two of the biggest stars in Telugu (“Tollywood”) cinema – Ram Charan and Jr NTR (who do amazing jobs by the way, such screen presence!) and how their paths cross while in pursuit of their respective missions.
Bheem’s (Jr NTR) is to rescue his sister who has been kidnapped by a high-ranking British official, while Raju’s (Ram Charan), through his role as a police officer, is to equip every person with a weapon to fight back against the British Raj.
Though the second-part focuses on the pair edging closer to achieving their goals, it is heavily underscored by character transformation. This is especially so for Raju, who realises that the relentless pursuit of his goal doesn’t have to include sacrificing his people, or betraying his friendship with Bheem: “guns don’t achieve freedom”. The epiphanic moment for Bheem occurs when he understands that Raju’s goal was bigger than himself, that while he came for his sister Malli, Raju “came for the land”.
The film goes heavy on the symbolism, which is probably my favourite part. This is solidified in the beginning, where we see Raju represented by fire and Bheem represented by water. The action sequences exploit this dual symbolism to full effect, with Raju’s scenes being cast in fiery red hues while Bheem’s take on green-and-blue tones. These symbolic overtures reach their fullest extent in the last part of the movie when fire and water combine to bring blood to the fore, and Raju and Bheem fight together against their common enemy. Here, there seems to be a switch in their respective modus operandi, perhaps a sign of true synergy and brotherhood, with Raju on horseback employing a bow and arrow while Bheem, on motorbike, takes to the rifle.
True to the Indian cinematic experience, the film is engrossing and all-encompassing, particularly in terms of sound. The backing score is loud and intentionally so, and together with the graphic intensity of the scenes, makes for a strong case of audio-visual overload. On top of that, with the three-hour run time, one might not be so inclined to give this film a watch. But, surprisingly, the three-hours pass by quickly, which is probably due to the film’s emotionally charged nature, which gives it the extra push it needs to get to the finish line. Put another way, the film’s extensive emotional gamut (there are playful and humorous moments aplenty) means there’s bound to be something in there for everyone.
Bollywood stars Ajay Devgn and Alia Bhatt have extended cameos in the film, as part of Raju’s backstory, and both are effective in their roles. On the musical end, Naatu Naatu and Komaram Bheemudo were outstanding – the former for its fun turn and the latter for its melancholic beauty.
If seen one way, some aspects of the film could be noted as limitations, namely the somewhat one-dimensionality of the British characters. Viewers unfamiliar with the terrain of Indian cinema (or on a deeper level, colonial narratives and histories) might find the English dialogue and language employed confusing, shocking,
or even comical. However, it appears as if these choices were deliberate to provide an effective hyper-contrast with the heroic duo of the film.
It is thus important to be aware of the linguistic, historical, and cultural complexities inherent in the making and marketing of such a film. RRR is originally in Telugu, a Dravidian language spoken mainly in south-east India and one of the oldest in the world. Alongside Telugu, it is available for viewing, with English subs, in three other languages – Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam.
So, in a more nuanced vein, my earlier characterisation of the engrossing nature of the film being true to the Indian cinematic experience, though broadly applicable, might be construed as a misnomer. Reason being that there are storytelling elements and stylistic choices distinct to Tollywood that likely create a different brand of immersion from Bollywood films. The same awareness is needed for the languages RRR is offered in – they are four out of hundreds of languages (and thousands of dialects) spoken in India.
Although the characters, language and mode of presentation may feel unfamiliar, the wider story – of resistance, rebellion, and revolution – may resonate, and the friendship between Raju and Bheem may resonate more still. Even so, the opportunity to see a resonant story told in a different and dynamic way is always worth the effort. Give RRR a go!
RRR is now screening in select cinemas nationwide. Versions in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam (all with English subtitles) are available.
– input from stuff.co.nz was used in this article