‘RRR’: If Cocaine Were a Movie, It Would Look Like This

In an age where Hollywood has forgotten what cinematic entertainment is all about, Indian director S. S. Rajamouli’s ‘RRR’ – now streaming on Netflix – is something of a miracle

Oron Shamir
Oron Shamir
A scene from Netflix's "RRR."
A scene from Netflix's "RRR."Credit: NETFLIX
Oron Shamir
Oron Shamir
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This year, Indian cinema is back on Israeli movie screens. A new Indian film debuts here about once a month on average, realizes its full economic potential in the first week or two, and then makes way for the next in line. The Indian movie that in Hebrew was entitled “The Great Revolt” came and went here in March. In its homeland, it was a blockbuster hit, one of the biggest of all time for its genre, and in North America and elsewhere it did quite well and garnered a lot of buzz. Now “RRR” (the film’s original title) can be seen on Netflix.

Thousands of films are produced in India each year, in a wide variety of genres. The term Bollywood refers specifically to Hindi-language films made in Mumbai. In recent years, a new filmmaking hub – known as Tollywood – has emerged in south India. The “T” stands for “Telugu,” the predominant language in Andhra Pradesh.

The most prominent Tollywood director is S. S. Rajamouli, who attracted worldwide attention with his 2012 action film “Eega,” about a guy who turns into a vengeance-wreaking fly. The gifted filmmaker went on to make a pair of legendary epics called “Baahubali,” in which he showed his chops as an action director to an even greater degree.

“RRR” is his most ambitious film to date, a historical action epic (it's over three hours long) set in 1920s British colonial India. On Netflix, you will find the Hindi-dubbed version with English subtitles rather than the original Telugu-language version, but that doesn’t stop it from being a spectacular cinematic experience.

The movie opens with an acknowledgement of its historical inaccuracies and reassurance that no animals were harmed during filming, since they were all computer-generated. Both of these things will be immediately obvious, but the filmmaker’s desire to preempt any nitpicking so that the audience can simply revel in the action on screen is key to any viewing of the film.

The stars are the brand

The film requires massive suspension of disbelief, and also takes some time to adjust to Indian tastes (the opening credits appear only 45 minutes into the film, for example). But you’ll probably find it won’t be that easy to sit through a contemporary Hollywood movie after you’ve experienced the awe-inspiring explosion of creative energy provided by Rajamouli and friends.

In Indian cinema, the stars are the brand, like it used to be in Hollywood’s golden age (but is rarely the case nowadays). Aside from the director, who is a star himself, the film is intriguing because it features two of Tollywood’s biggest stars working together for the first time, while Bollywood stars like Alia Bhatt and Ajay Devgn appear only in supporting roles.

Jr NTR (aka N. T. Rama Rao Jr.) plays Bheem, protector of a tribe that lives near the Adilabad Forest, whose mission is to find a girl who was kidnapped by the British. Ram Charan is Rama Raju, an Indian cop who works for the British Army and has his own motivations that lead him to undertake a secret mission. The two heroes join forces without knowing the other’s true identity.

These two freedom fighters did not actually meet in real life as portrayed in the film, but the movie takes an alternative history approach – similar in a way to some of Quentin Tarantino’s recent films like “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” and takes it to an extreme.

In order to genuinely enjoy what “RRR” has to offer, a Western viewer must adjust their expectations. The film is extravagantly colorful, as befitting the tradition from which it comes, and the dialogue was recorded in a studio – in order to produce versions for five of the languages that are spoken in India. The special effects don’t really try to convince you of their realism; they are just meant to amaze and serve the straightforward plot.

The story is relayed in a classic and unsophisticated manner. The movie remains simple, propelled by larger-than-life emotions. Every element is heightened to the max, and executed with all the power and talent that Indian cinema has to offer.

If you’ve ever wondered what cocaine might look like if it were a movie, with the creators going totally wild in multiple genres all at once, here is your answer.

As a historical drama, the film is anything but staid, mainly thanks to the burgeoning bromance between the two protagonists. Their friendship is firmly cemented during a grandiose and somewhat confusing action scene accompanied by a montage set to a song that spells out what is happening.

Later, each of these characters gets his own romantic plotline. Bheem’s plays out like a romantic comedy of mismatched classes when he falls in love with the only Brit who isn’t evil, and she (Olivia Morris, in her film debut) just happens to be the governor’s niece. Even this element of the plot is depicted with the utmost sincerity and exaggeration, though – and since this is an Indian film, there is of course also dancing.

Much of the film’s success can be attributed to Rajamouli’s cinematic style – he films with minimal cuts and tremendous elegance. The lengthy action sequences are highly detailed and totally bonkers, with more slow-mo moments than your average Zack “Batman v Superman” Snyder movie, but also have a lot more pizazz and pure exuberance.

Each of the two protagonists gets an action scene that highlights his particular strengths: Bheem flows through the jungle like water and out-growls and subdues a tigress that has pursued him. Rama Raju, meanwhile, can bring a vast crowd of people to order like wildfire.

Water and fire collide head-on in the traditional “interval” scene midway through the film. This is where “RRR” takes off into superhero territory, but unlike the gloom of the DC Comics universe or the way the Marvel superhero films grovel to the audience, Rajamouli gives us unadulterated pathos – fake identities, brutal and bloody violence, complex heroes, and villains who are unadulterated evil. The British are mostly referred to as “the Empire,” and there is no shying away from caricatures of the sort even Disney is afraid to portray anymore.

The only possible quibble is that the nationalist aspect is heightened to the point of absurdity. But that’s probably to be expected from an encounter between elements from Hindi mythology and tales of heroism and patriotism from the era of India’s fight for independence.

The film is not trying to be subtle and happily embraces its childish side, offering viewers a chance to feel like a kid experiencing the movies for the first time, at full intensity and with peak emotion.

At a time when Hollywood has forgotten what fun looks like or what movie entertainment is meant to be about, “RRR” feels like a miraculous oasis in the middle of the desert. I’m willing to bet you haven’t seen a more enjoyable film this year. I know I haven’t.

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