Netflix’s hit ‘RRR’ is a political screed, action bonanza and exhilarating musical
When it comes to film propaganda, blatant is better than insidious. A manifest plea has the virtue of frankness and the vigor of fervent emotion. A movie like “Top Gun: Maverick” hides its messages under the guise of stark realities, while another new high-energy political action spectacle, the Indian film “RRR” (which hit theaters in March and is now streaming on Netflix, where it’s in the top five), makes its statements explicit. He showcases his imaginative artistry in an exciting and joyful way.
“RRR” – the title stands for “Rise Roar Revolt” – turns history into legend through heightened visual rhetoric. It is based very loosely on the true stories of two early 20th century Indian revolutionaries, Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem, who challenged the oppressions of British colonial power. There is no record of them meeting, let alone joining forces. The director, SS Rajamouli – who also wrote the screenplay, based on a story by V. Vijayendra Prasad (her father) – draws a magnificent outpouring of creative energy from the inspiring fantasy of their volatile connection. (The film’s original language is Telugu; the Netflix version is dubbed into Hindi.)
On a road trip through the Indian countryside, Catherine Buxton (Alison Doody), the overbearing wife of the British colonial governor, buys an Indian girl named Malli (Twinkle Sharma) as one would buy a pet. The governor’s party takes the child away despite the protests of his mother, Loki (Ahmareen Anjum), who is brutalized by British guards. Malli is from the Gond tribe, who is said to be holding her own, and her so-called shepherd, Bheem (NT Rama Rao, Jr.), a fierce warrior, travels to Delhi to find her, disguising himself as a Muslim mechanic. named Aktar. British Governor Scott Buxton (Ray Stevenson) is warned by an Indian policeman about the shepherd and his ferocity; Buxton orders his officers to find and capture the shepherd. One of his Indian policemen, Raju (Ram Charan), who volunteers for the mission, plans to infiltrate the city’s revolutionary Indian circles. In Delhi, two Indian strangers see a boy drowning in the river and team up to save him; the two men, Raju and “Akhtar”, quickly become friends. Raju is unaware that Akhtar is the warrior he is looking for, and Akhtar is unaware that Raju is working for the man whose house he aims to plunder. The drama of their secrets and the circuitous path of their ultimate collaboration (this is not a spoiler), involve scenes of moral and emotional horror that are redeemed for the lofty purpose of their historic mission.
The similarity in tone with other Indian action movies also matches what it shares with Hollywood blockbusters. The drama is built around action, dwells on characters, has very little dialogue that doesn’t advance the plot, and offers no psychology, story, or social context to enrich the historical setting. It’s a film of shortcuts and elisions no less relentless than those of American superhero or superstar vehicles, but Rajamouli is an artist with a distinctive temperament and talent. It highlights the halo of legend in an extended scene that features Raju, in a prison where Indians are storming the gates to free a prisoner. There, Raju takes on the entire surging crowd through impossible acrobatics and an eruptive martial art (highlighted by a madly spinning camera) that plays out like a live cartoon. The fantasy element is heightened by a rigorous self-imposed training sequence from Bheem, which involves a one-handed battle with a wolf and a tiger.
There’s an overt element of exaggeration that bends the story into the substance and tone of the legend – the effect is of a tall tale on screen. It is a film of dizzying and exhilarating hyperbole in which the physical action pierces the barrier of impossibility but stops short of the supernatural or the superheroic. And there’s a dashing graphic sense of composition and an assertive, precise sense of fast-paced action that owes nothing to the generic jumble with which most Hollywood action scenes are filmed and edited. “RRR” is also filled with gore: blood flowing, blood gushing, bodies beaten, pierced and torn. Yet the combination of a strongly determined political goal and an artistry of composition lends the horror an air of abstraction that stirs up a sense of outrage or justice without physical disgust or titillation.
The plot has twists, hidden detours and surprising connections, which have the brilliance of magic tricks. Story omissions and truncations – an odd thing to refer to in a film that lasts almost three hours – contribute to the wonder and give a jolt of astonishment to an extended flashback that dropped halfway through. . The drama is rooted in the utter sadism, the monstrous and even genocidal racism of the British, the government terrorism with which Buxton reigns, the pathological lust for power Catherine displays, the dehumanizing prejudices of junior officers and the vile hiring policy of native. people to do their dirty work. The view of history of colonial despotism involves not only severe economic inequality, but also relentless political repression – and a sense of fear that is almost a sense of doom, signaled by the absolute ban on Indians owning arms fire and the resulting uproar when even a single gun falls into the hands of one of them.
Despite all its political will, “RRR” is also a musical and electrifying comedy. The film is filled with music and characters singing at times of great political importance; When Raju and Bheem manage to attend a major British social gathering, they turn a moment of cultural chauvinism into a spectacular dance. The frenetically athletic choreography involves gestures of swift sculptural majesty to match the geometric flair of the images that capture it. Where the film’s central dance is fiercely competitive, the fight scenes are dance-like, with moments of spooky splendor. One won’t soon forget the sight of one warrior carrying another on his back, the top one carrying two guns and firing them with deadly precision in opposite directions as the wearer smashes through a wall of bricks. Or a runaway motorcycle stopped with one foot like a soccer ball, caught in the air and hurled with the devastating force of a cannonball. Or a single flaming arrow igniting the entire countryside and producing Wagnerian images of sublime destruction.
The drama of political unity that song lyrics characterize as “the friendship between an erupting volcano and a wild storm” is also a spectacle of patriotic pomp. The film’s powerful sense of revolutionary virtue and collective purpose gives way to a nationalist pride that is danced and sung with uninhibited joy. The final production number, with militaristic bravado, shines a light on the current aims of this near-historical tale.