When a movie picks you up out of your theatre seat and deposits you back hours later enthralled, giddy and lightweight as if you have had an out of body experience, you know the movie did something right.
The much anticipated release from India, RRR, was absolutely on my radar as years ago I loved filmmaker SS Rajamouli’s brilliant, historic BAHUBALI movies and I knew there was a huge budget and excitement for his follow up along with a release delay thanks to the pandemic. Rajamouli returns here in a beyond joyous and wonderful movie experience that is almost like five movies in one. It left me full of adrenaline and shaking for hours after the credits rolled. I am truly hoping that with it’s delirious, eager-to-please attitude that this is FINALLY the Indian movie that will break through to North American audiences.
The title stands for “Rise, Roar, Revolt” as we are thrown right into the story. It’s set in and around Delhi during British rule in 1920, depicting two distinct Indian revolutionaries who form a total bromance, and believe me that bromance is tested as they must go right up against the British Army. After a sequence where a young Indian girl is purchased for a few coins and taken by an officer and his wife (Ray Stevenson and Alison Doody), our heroes are revealed in two respective introductions; the first is Ram (Ram Charan), a police officer who somehow takes on an entire group of Indian citizens almost single-handedly in a plight to impress the British army; a task that doesn’t pan out when he isn’t selected as a higher up force with the army. The second is even better, where we meet Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.) outrunning a tiger in a forest eager to catch him…and having no problem roaring right back at the tiger when they almost meet face to face (which was one of the first instances the audiences also roared, no pun intended, in cheers at my screening…oh, how the moviegoing experience is back). Then the two meet in what I can only describe with an exploding train, a child in peril, and a rescue sequence where the cheering got even louder at my screening.
Nearly 40 minutes into the picture after this breathtaking rescue sequence we finally get the title card blasting on screen. I know I already mentioned that RRR stands for Rise, Roar, Revolt but I really think this movie stands for Ram, Rama and Ramajouli as you already feel the sheer star and filmmaking power here. A lot of the picture is revisionist history and based off of actual figures including our two heroes, but of course in true Indian blockbuster fashion is heavily revised for the sake of our entertainment, and boy does it entertain. While the joy is through the new friendship between our two heroes, there’s also a lot of issues happening and identities hidden for both of them, and we also learn more about them both as the picture progresses.
What I am HOPING with RRR is that it finally makes the breakthrough to North American audiences. To those reading this and thinking this is just this Canadian with my “strange movie likes” or you immediately think “Ugh, I don’t want to watch a movie with subtitles”…look beyond it. Take a chance and check RRR out and go in with an open mind. This kind of visual, poetic storytelling with grand spectacle, an incredible visual look and incredible sonic design is exactly what I love about going to the movies in the first place and is a refreshing departure from a lot of the lazy American blockbusters, IP’s and remake slash sequel culture.
Rajamouli, who absolutely commands every single second here with passion and even a bit of madness, throws everything but the kitchen sink here just as he did with his BAHUBALI pictures from a few years ago. I was writing furiously in my notes during the screening that it just keeps elevating itself. Just when you think it opens with an abduction that would set the stage for a lot of “plot” and “world building” (in the Marvel movies this is a lot of characters sitting around talking), it then follows with a big sequence of one policeman taking on hundreds of protestors, then a chase with a tiger, then ups the ante even further featuring a train exploding and a near impossible rescue. Then a few scenes later, we’re dancing in our seats to a furiously choreographed dance off our heroes being invited to a mostly white party at a country club, then totally owning it in one of the finest examples of a song and dance number I have ever seen. Then later an attack on a compound happens in one wide reveal shot that I dare not reveal here, but I nearly jumped out of my seat and was cheering right along with the rest of the audience. Even it’s final action sequence involves the use of guns, motorcycles, arrows in such a balletic fashion that would even make Chaplin proud.
Even with big, sweeping moments such as the ones I just described, there are also more intimate moments that keep us involved. This all works because we also care about Ram and Bheem who have distinct personalities but also have their own struggles and desires. A pivotal flashback in the second act where a father successfully fights off an incoming British attack in a small village feels almost as visceral as Spielberg’s war sequences in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and is critical to the later moments in the film. Throughout RRR we are also treated to some truly funny comedy and melodrama; sure, there is a terrific bromance between Ram and Bheem, but they both have off-shoot moments with key characters around them, in particular Jenny (a terrific Olivia Morris) who forges an unlikely friendship with Bheem who can’t understand her english, and Jenny has her own three dimensions, so much so that I wanted to see more of her in the second half. I also must mention Ray Stevenson (who has been in decades of shows like ROME, THE OTHER GUYS and KING ARTHUR) who plays a British governor heavy in such an entertaining fashion, right down to his curved moustache, and Alison Doody (remember her in INDIANA JONES & THE LAST CRUSADE as the age-gapped love interest) in a very over-the-top performance that is one of the slight imperfections here.
RRR has it all. It is so gloriously so over the top that it goes all the way around, starts over at zero and goes over the top again. It has a dazzling array of visual effects work from the big and the small, and I didn’t even care if some of it seemed a little bit more animated (there is a clear disclaimer at the start that no animals were harmed and that all of the animals are computer created). Clearly you can’t stage a practical shot of a tiger coming right up to a human and roaring in its face, so of course visual effects have to step in. I’m all fine with this, as it’s all about Rajamouli’s brilliant imagination and I’m beyond overjoyed that he is given the tools and the filmmaking team backing him up, from the wonderful international cast to the enthralling 4k/8k photography, the booming and room-filling sound design to its epic, 188 minute run time that absolutely earns its stay.
If you are inexperienced in Indian Cinema, I get it, and you’re probably wondering what this movie even is. Growing up as a kid Indian cinema was told to me in noisy music videos on a higher-up channel on my cable box with poorly transferred film elements, typically shot in widescreen and condensed down to the TV frame, that made it all look the same. But it took me into my early film festival days to discover Shah Rukh Khan in ASOKA and later on in DEVDAS in the early 2000s along with the occasional film festival entry and I was hooked. With film festivals and taking chances on nearly every movie that opens in my home-town, you really discover all that the movies have to offer and I want to push a little further than just seeing the usual fare.
RRR has more excitement in five minutes than the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Cinematic Universe combined. This movie is a Grand Entertainment in every sense of the word, refusing to let up. There’s no waiting around for a post-credit scene or three; RRR blasts through its thunderous finale and epilogue all the way through the credits as I was dancing in my seat and cheering right along with the enthusiastic crowd. You want to watch it right over again as soon as it’s over. Not only is this a movie you need to see in the best theatre in town, but also with a packed crowd, of which I was fully participating in the cheering, applause and dancing in my seat throughout. RRR is the future.
RRR is now playing in select theatres around the world. Find it, get your tickets in advance and enjoy.