RRR and all the images you see in this review are owned by Variance Films and Sarigama Cinemas
Directed by S.S. Rajamouli
We’re still trying to take things easy around here, and frankly, it’s the perfect time to do it as Top Gun was really the last film to hold much interest for me. The new Jurassic Park looks like about as exciting as a paint drying seminar, and while Lightyear roped me in by using Bowie in the first trailer, I bounced off pretty hard after the more recent ones had much less going for them. So with that, we’re still mostly just scrapping through streaming services to see what pops up, and I decided to give this one a chance after hearing a lot of glowing reviews from people I follow on social media. Is this the action bonanza that everyone and their dog’s Twitter account is telling me it is, or am I going to be the Grumpy Gus that rains on everyone’s parade? Let’s find out!!
In the early twentieth century, back when The British Empire was occupying India, one of their governors (Ray Stevenson) kidnaps a child from a small village and takes her back to the consulate in Delhi. Unbeknownst to them, however, the village has a champion whose mission in life is to keep this tribe safe and to return this girl to her rightful family. The hero known as Komaram Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr) has already made his way to Delhi and so the government puts a bounty on his head which is of particular interest to one of their officers Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan) who sees it as a chance to get a promotion. Considering how the dude single-handedly fights off an entire riot, it seems like he’s a shoe-in to catch this hero, but the task may prove more difficult than he anticipated given that no one knows what he looks like and that the dude is known for fighting (and winging) against wild animals. While following a lead, Raju witnesses a train accident that puts a child in danger, and a mysterious stranger helps him to save the child in the most spectacular and outrageous manner possible, and the two become quick friends. Oh, but what a twist of fate that this stranger is none other than Bheem and the two have no idea of the other’s identity and it will surely come to a head the closer either one gets to completing their mission. Will Bheem be able to rescue the girl from the British Governor, or will his best friend be forced to stop him? What convinced Raju to join this oppressive government in the first place, and will his friendship with Bheem ultimately be his undoing? Did I actually see this movie, or was it a beautiful dream I had after watching too many Jerry Bruckheimer movies?
For those of you going into this without any idea of what you’re in for, this is one of the most gloriously absurd and captivating action films ever made! It’s the kind of buddy action movie that Hollywood wishes they could still make as its two charismatic leads carry us through an intense journey of brotherhood, betrayal, and duty as they fight and dance their way through the British Empire and their own conflicting ambitions. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of its stories or characters, but the simplicity of its narrative lends itself to the outlandish action and adds poignancy to the moments that it does get serious or introduce nuances to the situation. It’s a popcorn blockbuster through and through, and the film certainly overstays its welcome with a three-hour run time, but it still manages to be an absolute standout even among the overcrowded and highly produced Hollywood features that we’ve gotten this year. I mean Top Gun: Maverick was pretty good, but if it was about these guys they’d be jumping from jet to jet while shredding out on an electric guitar that’s on fire!
The action is the clear standout of the movie as I don’t think I’ve been this impressed with a movie’s action since 2011’s The Raid, and while I might give the edge to that in terms of its sheer brutality, there’s lighthearted exuberance here that is just unmatched by any other action film since perhaps the heyday of Jackie Chan. Then again, I’m not very familiar with Indian filmmaking so perhaps this is the norm and I’ve been looking in the wrong places for great action movies, but regardless, it’s a film that truly gets the fantastical nature of its own existence. It never concerns itself with realism when setting up its action scenes and the payoff is a movie full of delightful and unique set pieces that push the bounds of our imagination. It’s the kind of over-the-top frenetic action that Marvel never quite achieves despite having a better excuse to run wild with reckless abandon. Bheem and Raju may not be literal superheroes, at least not in the Western sense, but they are large than life characters that certainly straddle the line between peak human performance and straight-up deities. Bheem is perhaps most analogous to Paul Bunyan or John Henry if you’re looking for an American comparison; a great man seemingly birthed from the land itself in service of a greater purpose. His very first scene in the movie is the kind of over-the-top campfire story that starts a legend and it only gets more wild and outrageous from there with chase scenes, motorcycle jumps, dance numbers, and a confrontation between our two heroes that is sure to pull at the heartstrings of even the most hardened action film Connoisseur.
If the movie was just action set pieces with broadly drawn and larger-than-life figures, then I would still be singing this movie’s praises. What sets it from good to great territory though is that the story itself that the action hangs itself on is really engaging and just as much fun to see as the choreography. The movie is not shy about its justifiable disdain for British Imperialism with some genuinely cruel and hard-to-watch moments that are effective at getting its anti-imperialist message across and establishing the stakes. The real heart of the movie though Bheem and Raju’s budding friendship, and while it’s perhaps too heavily foreshadowed in the songs that play throughout the movie (I’m gonna chalk that up to a cultural thing), it’s still a delight to see unfold and the two have the kind of instant chemistry that sets the classic buddy action films apart. They genuinely enjoy each other’s company and find true companionship in their lives that are otherwise over-burdened with their respective duties. Seeing them relax around each other, especially Raju who is particularly wound up, is what gives the movie its weight when circumstances start to tear them apart, and while it is ultimately one giant cheesy spectacle, it works for the tone that the action has already set. This wild and carefree approach to filmmaking is, from what I understand more of a feature than a bug when it comes to Indian filmmaking, so while it may feel a bit bloated as it tries to cover so much ground all at the same time, there are very few movies that can sustain such an intense level of pure elation and juicy drama!
Watching this movie play out with such joyful abandon was one of the best experiences I had with a film all year, but there is a turning point where things start to sour a bit for me and it’s right at the intermission where the movie gets into its second half. This is where we’re gonna have to start venturing into some dicey territory and I am woefully unequipped to talk about it, so I’ll try to keep my discussion as focused on the film itself as possible and I’ll link to an article from Slate that does a good job of providing additional context to the unease I ultimately felt in the second half. The movie shifts focus from Bheem to Raju as we learn more about his backstory and I just didn’t connect with it on the same level. Where Bheem’s story felt personal and gut-wrenching while still making room for fun and excitement, Raju is much more tied to the real history of the country that the film sets itself within. None of this is bad per se as the genuine horrors of colonialism are worth exploring and the film does not lose any of its creative verve when settling into its more somber tone. For me though, it slowed down too much at just the moment where the movie’s length was starting to be felt and it never really gains that momentum again until the final action sequence. On top of that, there was something about the wider political scope of the movie that left me feeling a bit uneasy, especially with the way it venerates guns, and indeed there has been some talk about the movie’s political messaging; in this case, it appears to resonate to a significant degree with Hindu-Nationalists who have been consolidating power in the country. The Slate article I will link to at the bottom of this review will go into more detail on that and provide some much-needed context, but even without knowing anything about the symbolism being shown, there was a clear shift in aesthetics from anti-Imperialism to Indian Nationalism. Now the fact is that the American film industry has been guilty of this since its inception, from home-grown fascist propaganda like Birth of a Nation to more subtly pro-military features like Cecil B Demille’s Joan the Woman, and this has only exploded in the last four decades with the eighties which was an absolute hotbed of Pro-America blockbusters and the early 2000s being chock full of gritty War on Terror thrillers that fed into the prevailing right-wing geopolitics of the day. To Western audiences without a clue as to Indian politics, the movie is perhaps most analogous to the eighties version of this with its wonderfully crafted popcorn action and high-stakes drama that no doubt fits into someone’s agenda.
Once again, I will freely admit that I’m completely clueless about the nuances of Indian politics and am in no position to throw stones given the media that I and other westerners consume. If we get to have Top Gun, Hamilton, and the complete works of Michael Bay, then I think we can step away from whatever conversations are to be had about this movie. Seriously, the fact that we actually went and made London Has Fallen instead of burning the script and burying the ashes is more than enough to give this one a pass for its blunt messaging just as long as we acknowledge that it’s there. Aside from that and a laggy second half, I think this is one of the most fun movies to come out in a while, and it’s been a pretty good year so far that’s saying more than it normally would! If you’ve got a subscription to whatever streaming service has this movie (in the US, it’s on Netflix), then I would absolutely recommend checking it out for yourself. You may need to break it up into multiple viewings and you may end up tapping out before it’s over, but that first half is in and of itself one of the best action movies to come out in quite a while and is more than worth your time to seek out! And hey, if Hollywood wants to try another Men in Black movie or a Lethal Weapon reboot, I can think of two guys who’d fit the bill! Heck, let’s just go all the way with it and make a new Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas! I’d love to see the dance number they come up with for that one!
A Wild Indian Blockbuster Is Ravishing Movie Fans, but They’re Missing Its Troubling Subtext