(This review originally appeared at Leviathan Libraries)
RRR is a bombastic historical action epic about two heroic men on different sides of the British government who have to put aside their differences to save a little girl and, hopefully, overthrow the British government in the process.
“The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven”
Have you heard about RRR? Has the massive hype surrounding it made it to your ears or social media feeds yet?
India has one of the older film industries in the world and it is also one of the most prolific. Yet, despite its age and the sheer quantity of films, Indian cinema has never really crossed over to The West in any meaningful way to general audiences. It remains understudied and under-appreciated in the West, even within academic, film history, and cinephile circles. It also, unfairly, has a bad reputation. RRR feels like it came out of nowhere to become a massive hit and a crossover success.
What is RRR?
RRR is a kind of alternate history that takes two anti-British, Indian revolutionaries, who were real people and who never met, and wonders what would happen if they became friends and joined forces.
With Ram’s introduction a title card tells us he is known as The Fire. We learn that he’s a police officer for the British government and is tough and formidable. He jumps into a crowd of protesters to fight them off as he attempts to arrest someone in the crowd who threw a rock. It’s an Earth quaking, bone breaking sequence. Literally.
Then we meet Bheem, his title card calls him The Water. He’s a tribal protector and he fights a tiger. When a little girl from Bheem’s village is purchased like chattel and taken away from her mother, he is determined to find her and bring her back.
Ram is given the task of identifying this tribal protector and stopping him. After the character introductions are made there is an extended sequence where the two men team up to save a boy in peril after a train explosion on a bridge. It’s a spectacular sequence that showcases Indian action cinema at its finest. It’s bombastic, heroic, and wields slow motion like a surgeon’s scalpel. A bond is formed between the two men.
Ram needs to find Bheem. Bheem needs to rescue the little girl. Once everyone realizes who everyone else is, can their friendship survive? You will get immediately invested in this story, rooting for them along the way, and by the end you’ll be cheering.
Indian cinema largely runs off of a star system. Meaning that movie stars are of the utmost importance. Getting a star on board with a project is the first big step, even before writing. A star gets pitched an idea, they agree, their agreement fuels the project, which then gets written, and made. It’s been said before by others and I’ll say it here again, movie stars in India are like gods. We think we have big stars here in America but you can’t even imagine how popular Indian stars are. Hell, that’s where the title RRR comes from. RRR was originally a working title with each “R” representing the two stars and the director. They eventually decided to keep the title and retrofit it to Rise. Roar. Revolt.
So how did RRR become so hyped? First, the director, SS Rajamouli, has been making mass entertainment action movies that keep growing in popularity. His last two movies, Bahubali 1&2 are two of the highest grossing Indian films of all time. They’ve been on Netflix for a couple of years and have picked up even more viewers. Second, it stars two of India’s biggest stars who have never worked together. Third, the anticipation that was already present only grew when the film was delayed due to COVID. RRR had the biggest global theatrical release of any Indian film. But hype doesn’t equal success. It must deliver.
Is RRR any good? Is RRR worth your time?
The short answer? Believe the hype. RRR has no chill. It starts off at the highest possible energy levels and, somehow, maintains those energy levels and keeps surpassing them. It simply doesn’t let up. There are mid-movie action scenes that would be the climax in other films. There’s a moment that kicks off an action battle about two-thirds of the way through the movie that is badass.
But it isn’t all action all the time. It has quieter character moments. There’s an entire 45 minute (estimated) subplot that plays out like a romantic comedy. There’s musical numbers. Because this is a maximalist Rajamouli film though, one of the musical numbers turns into an epic dance battle that has to be seen to be believed.
RRR is like if Lawrence of Arabia or Ben-Hur was an 80s action movie. A totally rousing, crowd pleasing, fist pumping experience.
Maybe RRR is the first experience you’ve had with Indian films and you want to know what to watch next.
Indian cinema is as multi-faceted a film industry as anywhere else in the world (arguably even more so in some cases due to the different Indian states that have their own film industries and the large population of the country). Each state’s industry has its own actors, stars, qualities, and films. There’s everything from art house to popular and every genre in between. Bottom line is that there’s no single on-ramp to Indian cinema. Just keep an open mind. But I do want to leave you with a couple of suggestions.
If you liked the action side of things there’s plenty of movies that can scratch that itch. However, there is only one SS Rajamouli. If you liked RRR you should really watch his Baahubali movies: Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali: The Conclusion. The two movies tell one complete story and all the Rajamouli qualities are on full display. Baahubali 1 has a large-scale battle sequence that rivals anything in the Lord of the Rings movies. They are on Netflix.
If you liked Indian freedom fighters through an action movie lens in a historical setting try Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy which is streaming on Prime.
If you are looking for a more historically accurate biopic about India’s struggle for freedom, try Sardar Udham, which is streaming on Prime.
For something in a completely different direction, how about a rousing boxing drama reminiscent of Rocky, Sarpatta Parambarai is streaming on Prime.
Channeling my inner Siskel and Ebert let me give you my final verdict of RRR