‘RRR’ or — Radically Redefining ‘Remarkable’?
S.S. Rajamouli’s ‘RRR’ (2022) is a Telugu-language historical epic that, in other hands, might have been played serious, straight and realistic as it tells the story of two men and their fight against British domination and brutality in India. The thing is ‘RRR’ is like no epic you’ve ever seen before. In fact, it’s like no movie of any kind you’ll have ever seen before, period. It’s also, for me, the best film of the year and by a significant margin which could account for the bruises all over my body this morning because I didn’t so much watch ‘RRR’ has have it assault me with the force of multi-coloured tidal wave. Where to even begin?! Let’s have a go anyway.
India, 1920, and a young girl, Malli, is forcibly taken from her parents and village by the sadistic British Governor Scott Buxton and his equally sadistic wife, Catherine. A few years later word reaches the British in Delhi that these villages all have a protector, someone who will stop at nothing to look after those in his care. This protector is now coming to rescue Malli and kill the Governor. The only problem is the British have no idea who this protector is. We know he is a man called Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.) and that Bheem is brave.
Meanwhile a young British officer, A. Rama Raju (Ram Charan), is determined to prove himself worthy of promotion, something denied to him because he is Indian. No matter how bravely Raju demonstrates his loyalty to the Crown he will never be allowed to be their equal. However, when the British announce promotion for any officer who can apprehend this unknown protector Raju seizes his chance and so sets out to identify, then capture, Bheem before he can rescue Malli and exact his village’s revenge.
The only problem is that Raju and Bheem, after saving a child from a burning locomotive about to fall on him off a bridge, have inadvertently become close friends with neither knowing the other’s identity. Surely this will lead to trouble, even blood and death, later on? After all, one of them has to lose, although is Raju everything he seems?
Pretty straight forward, right? And ‘RRR’ is a clearly told, straight forward tale of which reading any synopsis wouldn’t raise too many eyebrows. But it is the way this tale is executed that elevates ‘RRR’ into the realm of the truly delirious, mind-blowing and overpowering. For example, the moment where Raju demonstrates his loyalty to the British by arresting a lone rock-thrower during a riot contains more action, more spectacle and more visual flamboyance than most movies struggle to achieve in their entire run time. And that’s just one scene in a three hour film consisting solely of scenes as crazy as this.
Everything, and I mean everything, is ramped-up to levels that I personally speaking have never witnessed before in any other film I can think of, and that includes ‘Gone with the Wind’ (1939)! This is maximalist filmmaking at its most explicit and extreme and the impact is shattering.
The reason Rajamouli is able to keep all this madness from flying off the tracks is because the story, characters, motivations and narrative are crystal clear (there’s a clarity here lacking from nearly all current Hollywood blockbusters) with the director knowing that if you can nail those, and if they feel genuinely earned, that then you can dial everything else up to levels as crazy as you want, and Rajamouli does that better here than almost anyone else I can think of.
There’s a moment towards the halfway point that might be the single greatest thing I have ever witnessed in a movie this century and I’m still physically recovering from it today. It’s the scene where Bheem sets out to rescue Malli. At first I was a little concerned as the plan looked as though it was going to involve driving explosives into a compound so was worried I was going to be confronted with a scene of uncomfortable violence combined with political implications to untangle.
Yes, the wagon is furiously driven into the British compound during an elegant garden party except it doesn’t explode. Instead it… well, I can’t really put it into words but let’s just say that what follows puts every single Hollywood blockbuster of the last fifteen years to utter and complete shame with a scene of such staggering invention and imagination that my synapses started firing so furiously my eyes began emitting light. The impact on me was so intense, so extreme, I made a noise that I have never made before during a movie before (it was somewhere between a laugh, a gasp, a shriek, an exhalation, an inhalation and a yelp).
The other reason the film works is due to a carefully constructed structure. The three hour run time flies by and this is partly down to Rajamouli giving the audience a sort of interval in the form a flashback halfway through to Raju’s youth so we can learn more about his motivations. This refreshes everything so when we return to the “present day” the energy levels have been refilled for a climax that, like the rest of ‘RRR’, is balls-to-the-wall insanity.
Not that the film is issue free. The anti-Imperial and anti-colonial message works well but by the end there’s a strong flavour of Nationalism at play as well as the sneaking suggestion that armed violence is a means to an end (Rajamouli is, apparently, a big Mel Gibson fan so…). Yet this could also be down to Rajamouli taking various aspects of Indian history and mythology and exploding them up to such exaggerated proportions that everything else and their implications get heightened, too. I’m not an expert on Indian cinema, history or politics so I wouldn’t know.
However, any issues or potential problems are completely annihilated by the sheer force of the filmmaking rolling over you. The cinematography is gorgeous, the music even better and the action scenes feel like something from another planet. Not all the dialogue is successful and some characters tend to the two-dimensional (Olivia Morris’ Jenny for example) but the story is engaging, exciting, compelling and in possession of real and earned emotional impact.
Still, these descriptions are futile as ‘RRR’ is beyond proper or satisfying description. It has to be experienced. It’s not perfect but as cinema it is undeniable. It is, without a doubt, the best new film I’ve seen this year.