This lively Indian action epic doesn't hold back — on the stunts, musical numbers, melodrama and OTT chaos — and it's a cinematic marvel.
March 25, 2022
UPDATE, June 28, 2022: RRR is available to stream via Netflix.
The letters in RRR's title are short for Rise Roar Revolt. They could also stand for riveting, rollicking and relentless. They link in with the Indian action movie's three main forces, too — writer/director SS Rajamouli (Baahubali: The Beginning), plus stars NT Rama Rao Jr (Aravinda Sametha Veera Raghava) and Ram Charan (Vinaya Vidheya Rama) — and could describe the sound of some of its standout moments. What noise echoes when a motorcycle is used in a bridge-jumping rescue plot, as aided by a horse and the Indian flag, amid a crashing train? Or when a truck full of wild animals is driven into a decadent British colonialist shindig and its caged menagerie unleashed? What racket resounds when a motorbike figures again, this time tossed around by hand (yes, really) to knock out those imperialists, and then an arrow is kicked through a tree into someone's head? Or, when the movie's two leads fight, shoot, leap over walls and get acrobatic, all while one is sat on the other's shoulders?
RRR isn't subtle. Instead, it's big, bright, boisterous, boldly energetic, and brazenly unapologetic about how OTT and hyperactive it is. The 187-minute Tollywood action epic — complete with huge musical numbers, of course — is also a vastly captivating pleasure to watch. Narrative-wise, it follows the impact of the British Raj (aka England's rule over the subcontinent between 1858–1947), especially upon two men. In the 1920s, Bheem (Jr NTR, as Rao is known) is determined to rescue young fellow villager Malli (first-timer Twinkle Sharma), after she's forcibly taken by Governor Scott Buxton (Ray Stevenson, Vikings) and his wife Catherine (Alison Doody, Beaver Falls) for no reason but they're powerful and they can. Officer Raju (Charan) is tasked by the crown with making sure Bheem doesn't succeed in rescuing the girl, and also keeping India's population in their place because their oppressors couldn't be more prejudiced.
There's more to both men's stories because there's so much more to RRR's story; to fill the movie's lengthy running time, Rajamouli hasn't skimped on plot. Indeed, there's such a wealth of things going on that the film is at once a kidnapping melodrama, a staunch missive against colonialism, a political drama, a rom-com and a culture-clash comedy — involving Bheem's affection for the sole kindly Brit, Jenny (Olivia Morris, Hotel Portofino) — and a war movie. It's a buddy comedy as well, starting when Bheem and Raja join forces for that aforementioned bridge rescue, yet don't realise they're on opposite sides in the battle over Malli. It's also as spectacular an action flick as has graced cinema screens, and as gleefully overblown. Plus, it's an infectiously mesmerising musical. One dazzling dance-off centrepiece doubles as a rebuff against British rule, racism and classism, in fact, and it's also nothing short of phenomenal to look at, too.
Spectacle is emphatically the word for RRR — not quite from its scene-setting opening, where Malli is ripped from her family, but from the second that Raju shows how well he can handle himself. That involves taking on a hefty horde of protesters single-handedly with just a stick as a weapon, because extravagance and excess is baked into every second of the feature. Super-sized is another term that clearly fits, because little holds back even for a second. And a third word, if the film bumped up its moniker to the next letter in the alphabet? That'd be sincere. An enormous reason that everything that's larger than life about RRR — which is absolutely everything — works, even when it's also often silly and cheesy, is because it's so earnest about how determined it is to entertain. You don't use that amount of slow-motion shots if you don't know you're being corny at times, unashamedly so.
If the whole friends-but-enemies dynamic between Bheem and Raja sounds like The Departed and Infernal Affairs, that's just part of RRR's exuberant melange of influences — just like genres. Its protagonists Komaram Bheem and Alluri Sitarama Raju are actually ripped from reality, with each revolutionaries, although their tales didn't ever intertwine. (No, nothing IRL in history has ever resembled this). The Harder They Fall did the same thing, fictionalising the past to make a statement and craft barnstorming cinema, but in America, in the Old West and with Black characters. Imagine the same idea given the Michael Bay treatment in India and that's almost the wavelength that RRR runs on. Imagine the right kind of Bayhem, though — Pain and Gain, for instance — or just think of his penchant for shamelessly go-for-broke action scenes and ignore everything he usually stuffs around them.
When a filmmaker is helming an action onslaught, just as when they're overseeing musical scenes, choreography is always key. That's another crucial factor in making RRR so engaging. Rajamouli's staging of both, and the way that the frays and song-and-dance numbers alike are shot by cinematographer KK Senthil Kumar (Vijetha) and edited by A Sreekar Prasad (Good Luck Sakhi), is a visual wonder. On one side, the Fast and Furious movies would be envious. On the other, Lin-Manuel Miranda might be. Again, RRR is often chaotically ridiculous, but it's also so well-made — so audaciously as well — that it's exhilarating. The films of John Woo come to mind at times, as do The Raid and The Raid: Redemption, but RRR is also its own beast. It's also easy to predict that Telugu-language cinema stars Jr NTR and Charan could get their moment in Hollywood; if Vin Diesel doesn't come calling, perhaps Quentin Tarantino will when he hops behind the camera next.
Jr NTR and Charan are megawatt movie stars, one playing an everyman who becomes a hero, the other the picture of dutiful and skilled authority — and deep-seated conflict — who does the same. They're dynamite together amid the rampant maximalism, the stunts and the CGI-heavy special effects. Yes, that means that RRR is also a bromance. The film's central pair live their lives one anti-colonialist tussle at a time, though. Their characters are also posed as superheroes, never with the term ever mentioned, but in just how super-adept they are. Of course, the usual sprawling caped-crusader franchises typically don't feel this overstimulated, ardent, often-absurd and engagingly alive.