While India’s film scene has been making inroads around the world for a while now, as of yet I hadn’t gotten to see any of it. Since it’s always interesting to be exposed for the first time to the art and culture of another country I was very curious to catch S.S. Rajamouli’s global sensation RRR. The only thing I really knew to expect was a closing song and dance number, so little did I know just how big the director was going to go with every aspect of this story, co-written with V. Vijayendra Prasad and loosely based on real historical figures.
In 1920, while India was still under British colonial rule, district administrator Scott Buxton (Ray Stevenson) steals a young girl from a small tribe in the woods at his wife’s behest. Understandably upset by this, the tribe’s guardian Komaram Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.) vows to bring her back and so sets off to Delhi to track down her captors. Meanwhile, A. Rama Raju (Ram Charan) is trying to work his way up the ranks of the Indian Imperial Police, earning him the scorn of some of his fellow countrymen. When Buxton and company learn of the impending threat posed by Bheem they initially scoff, before deciding that perhaps someone should track him down, a task that Raju is eager to accept.
As Bheem and Raju roam the city on their respective hunts, a railroad accident brings them together when they attempt to rescue a trapped boy. Unaware of who they each really are, they find themselves forming a fast friendship, which plays out in the most endearingly campy way imaginable: an extended musical montage. While most of their British occupiers are needlessly cruel to the Indian people, one day Bheem notices a woman named Jenny (Olivia Morris) defending a local man from an English guard and is drawn to her by her act of kindness. With Raju’s help, he begins to court her, not knowing that she resides in the palace with Buxton and has been tending to the stolen girl.
As you can probably guess with all these pieces in place, things are likely headed towards an explosively operatic finale, an idea only further driven home by the repeated musical cues questioning whether or not the pair’s friendship will lead to bloodshed. But no matter how explosive an ending you might be imagining, it’s bound to be tame compared to what actually happens. I can’t comment on whether or not all Indian cinema is like this, but RRR is gleefully excessive throughout its entire run time. Even the quieter moments are filmed and staged in a manner that makes them feel loud. There are numerous scenes featuring enormous crowds, sprawling city streets, and manicured palace grounds, a very impressive dance number at a party, and fights featuring some of the most spectacularly improbable choreography ever set to film. Every time it starts to seem like it might be too much, Rajamouli throws more on the screen, and somehow it manages to work. Mostly.
Running 3 hours in length, it does feel like the movie could have been trimmed down at least a little bit and some of the transitions that cover larger periods of time can be initially confusing, especially with so much packed into the plot. While the Indian actors all do fine work, the two leads especially, other than Jenny the English cast doesn’t fare as well, feeling too hammy for my taste, though this could be an intentional decision on the part of the director. The movie is preceded by a statement that no animals were harmed as they were all created in CG, but they needn’t have bothered as I can’t imagine anyone not being able to tell that was the case. Not that it’s bad, but it definitely shows more than once. These foibles aside however, this is a memorable ride. I don’t think movies from most countries would dare to be so proudly over-the-top. If most of India’s populist cinema is this much fun, I definitely need to see more. ★★★★
not rated. contains bloody action violence, thematic material, BRIEF mild language, and smoking.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor