“RRR,” 2022, directed by S.S. Rajamouli — 4.5/5 stars
Indian cinema rarely makes its way to the United States. When movies from India do land in theaters here, they’re usually more pensive art house films unfamiliar to general audiences even in their country of origin. The movies popular in India and South Asia are often written off by American moviegoers as overlong, grossly unsubtle musicals under the often misunderstood banner of “Bollywood,” leaving the biggest blockbusters from India largely isolated from North America. “RRR,” India’s most expensive movie ever made, is one of the first to begin breaking through that barrier. It’s not necessarily subverting American expectations; it’s three hours long, punctuated by several bombastic dance numbers and excessively theatric; but all of those elements work in its favor. Not only is “RRR” unmistakably the biggest movie in India, it’s also popped up in over 100 theaters across the United States, and a Hindi version is available on North American Netflix. While it’s definitely a movie built for the big screen, it’s absolutely worth experiencing at home. A story with emotional stakes elevated to the nth degree, action sequences unmatched by any American movie in the last two decades, and the level of charisma perhaps only comparable to Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain,” “RRR” is a wonderful window into an often unappreciated slice of international filmmaking.
The film’s title stands for “Rise, Roar, Revolt,” a fitting motto for its two protagonists, fictionalized versions of Indian revolutionaries fighting against the British Raj in the 1920s. One is Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan), who seeks to rise up in the ranks of the British police force in order to redistribute British weapons to freedom fighters. The other is Komaram Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao Jr.), a man on a quest to save a young girl from his tribe after she is kidnapped by colonialists. Raju is sent to kill Bheem, and intends to follow through on his orders in the hopes of receiving a promotion, but things get messy when he unknowingly develops a deep friendship with the very man he’s been assigned to assassinate. This culminates in the second act, when Bheem invades the palace where Malli, the young girl, is being held, aided by a squadron of wild tigers and wolves. There, the two are forced to face off and make the choice between their mission and their closest friend.
It’s all incredibly melodramatic, but Charan and Rama Rao’s performances sell the emotional rollercoaster on a spectacular level, giving real weight to the ridiculous situations their characters are placed in. The action sequences are unbelievably fun, with well-lit sets aided by decent CGI and tight, smooth editing. There’s even a romantic comedy element; Bheem woos the British governor’s niece and has a dance-off with another man to prove himself. Hanging over it all is the cartoonishly evil, justly portrayed figure of settler colonialism that gets its comeuppance in a beautifully satisfying conclusion. Every single segment of the film achieves what it aims for, and its three-hour runtime feels not a second too long.
“RRR” is an epic in every sense of the word. It’s a genuinely emotional story about the power of friendship, difficult decisions and the strength of collectivist symbols. It couldn’t be more over-the-top if it tried, and that, in the end, is what makes it great. “RRR” is on Netflix right now and returns to U.S. theaters on June 1.