Directed by S. S. Rajamouli — Screenplay by S. S. Rajamouli — Story by V. Vijayendra Prasad.
Excuse me as I begin my review with a bit of a story. For months, I’ve wanted to watch the widely successful RRR, the Indian epic that has taken Hollywood and the world by storm, but I have also been deeply frustrated by the fact that it isn’t really in theaters and it isn’t on streaming services. Or was it? You see, for a while now I’ve noted that Netflix allowed me to put the film on my watchlist but not actually watch it. JustWatch, the primary online streaming guide I use to track the arrival of new releases, even insisted that it was on Netflix in Denmark. I didn’t know what to believe. Well, this frustration went on for quite some time. That is, until last week, when I read a Danish review of the film, which specified that to watch the film in Denmark, you simply needed to change your language to English on Netflix. Et voilà. It actually was on the Danish Netflix this whole time, but for some reason, it was locked away behind simple language settings. Anyway, I digress. Let’s talk about the hottest movie of 2022, which I’m so glad that I finally saw, S. S. Rajamouli’s RRR.
The most expensive Indian film ever made, S. S. Rajamouli’s RRR (whose curious abbreviated title stands for both Rise, Roar, Revolt, as well as the Rs of its director and its two leads, the latter of which was the reasoning for it originally just being a working title) is set during the British Raj in 1920, and it follows characters that are based on two actual Indian revolutionaries, Alluri Sitarama Raju (Rama Raju, played by Ram Charan) and Komaram Bheem (Bheem, played by N. T. Rama Rao, Jr.). While visiting a forest housing the Gond tribe, British Governor Scott Buxton (played by Ray Stevenson) and his wife Catherine (played by Alison Doody) abduct a young girl, Malli (played by Twinkle Sharma), whose talent for artistry and singing intrigued the colonists. Unbeknownst to them, they have set the powerful Gond guardian, Bheem, on a mission to rescue her. When they eventually find out, the colonists recruit Rama Raju, a brave, relentless, and ambitious officer in the Indian Imperial Police. Rama Raju will be made a special officer if he brings Bheem to them alive. Unaware of each other’s intentions or identities, they meet on a bridge and form a friendship, which will inevitably be tested as their true goals are gradually revealed.
Back to the introduction for just a second, as I have to explain that the only version available on Netflix is the version of the film that has been dubbed into Hindi. I can’t say what kind of impact it has on the overall experience of the film (other than the lip-synching being off), though I can imagine that the most notable translation issues between Hindi and Telugu wouldn’t be noticed by me anyway, since I don’t understand or speak either language. In spite of all of this, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed RRR. Believe the hype. It is an overwhelming genre-fluid three-hour epic that never lets go of you.
What do I mean by genre-fluid? Well, this is ‘a lot of movie’ and I am not just talking about the overwhelming three-hour runtime. Rajamouli has made a film that somehow gets away with being both a spectacular action movie with excellent jaw-dropping sequences, a genuinely well-designed costume drama, and period piece, as well as a musical. It is a romance film, it is a bromance film, and it is a film about rebellion. It is bombastic, over the top, and absolutely delightful.
If you’re new to Indian films (I still think of myself as being new to Indian cinema, even though it certainly isn’t my first experience with it), there will be something of an adjustment period as the film starts. Because when I state that this is over the top, I mean it in pretty much every sense of the word. The musical numbers are electric, the title sequence doesn’t appear until forty minutes in, the action is firey, bloody, and relentless, the villains (in this case, the British Raj) are cartoonishly evil and shockingly brutal, and the film’s heroes are super-human and defined by their connection to elemental forces. One of our heroes is defined by his rage and is often accompanied by fire, whereas the other is linked to water. And it all works. Once I had adjusted to what Rajamouli’s film went for, the film genuinely started to give me goosebumps as it went from one set piece to the next.
The sincerity with which it handles the bromance scenes is something that Hollywood could learn a thing or two from. There is a blossoming friendship montage and one of the lead characters even gives the other one a makeover out of the goodness of his heart. It is wonderful, and it is just as integral to Rajamouli’s story as the Rocky-like sequences that would make Sylvester Stallone jealous, the excessive but excellent use of slow-motion that John Woo and Zack Snyder would obsess over, and the somewhat messianic element to the public torture musical scene that basically feels like the kind of thing Mel Gibson would conjure up if he was a musical theater kid. The action is some of the best that I’ve seen in years, the ‘Naatu Naatu’-dance number is infectious and made me giddy with excitement, and there are several shots to obsess over, such as that one shot where a tire on fire is rolling across the screen in the foreground, while Rama Raju is walking in the background and is framed perfectly inside of the tire’s hole in the center.
You could say that one of its problems is that it may be overlong, but, actually, I think the bigger problem is that it feels like there are important scenes missing. Although the central bromance is much more exciting than the romance between N. T. Rama Rao, Jr. and Olivia Morris’ characters, it is such a shame that that subplot is essentially just forgotten about eventually. I also think that it is tough for me to really discuss the political stance of the film. There are things about it that seem outright propagandist, and some things that seem somewhat problematic (specifically how Bheem criticizes himself at one point in the film). Though I wouldn’t know how to talk about this film’s political stance. I will leave that up to others who are more knowledgeable on the subjects specific to this film and Indian history. I can only view it as a pop masterpiece of a movie epic. As just a piece of entertainment, it’s magic, and it will probably serve as an excellent gateway into Bollywood and Tollywood cinema.
An infectious joy, S. S. Rajamouli’s genre-fluid three-hour epic action musical bromance film is every bit as good as its word-of-mouth suggests. It is so charming, undeniably overwhelming, but also just pure movie magic. I hope one day I get to see it with a crowd. Make sure you see this.
9 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.