I complain a lot about American cinema and rightly so. Given the vast amount of money and effort expended in Hollywood, there often doesn’t seem much bang for all those bucks. Yet if you go through my Movie Reviews, you’ll find I’ve given plenty of Wow! ratings to American films.
Just usually to the smaller films, the “little gems” that come from a filmmaker’s heart. I rarely find much value in the bland American McAction McBlockbusters. (Certainly not in the increasingly worn-out superhero genre.)
But, oh, my goodness, RRR (2022), by Indian filmmaker and screenwriter S. S. Rajamouli is the best, most interesting, most enthralling, most exciting, surprising, colorful, amazing, delightful action (superhero) blockbuster I’ve seen in… well, it feels like ever.
Seriously, stop reading this now and go watch it (on Netflix). If you don’t have Netflix, go subscribe to Netflix so you watch it. (You can always cancel your subscription later, but I’ve found Netflix one of the better cost/content values.)
It would be appropriate to end this right here. There really isn’t more you need to know except go watch this movie right now. Trust me on this; you won’t be sorry you did. (Unless you don’t care for a fun rip-roaring tale of action, song, explosions, dance, lots of gunfire, family, friendship, love, and tigers. And, admittedly, no small amount of gore.)
But you know me; I have notes. (Come back and read them after you watch the movie. Go now. Go right now. I’ll see you in just over three hours. Yes, three hours but you’ll be surprised how quickly the time passes. You’ll wish it was longer.)
The movie opens with one of the cooler (and longer) production graphics I’ve seen along with two disclaimers. The first goes on (at length) about how this is just a story with no relation to real people, real tribes, real languages, or real events. No thing and no one is being demoted, promoted, belittled, or elevated.
My knowledge of India is woeful, and I’m trusting Wikipedia, but I think the gaudy first disclaimer, at least in part, is because the two main characters, Komaram Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao Jr.) and Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan), are real people from India’s history (as well as being from India’s mythology).
The second disclaimer explains that no animals were harmed because none of them (and there are plenty) are real. All the animal action is CGI. Pretty damn good CGI.
The opening sequence introduces a motif and gives us two versions of the movie’s cryptic title, RRR. A triplet of vignettes provides an alternate reading, StoRy, FiRe, WateR, and a more formal title sequence gives us Rise, Roar, Revolt.
Both readings are significant. The context of the story is 1920s India under British rule. The background does involve rising up, roaring (like a tiger), and revolting against tyranny.
And honestly, it’s almost refreshing to see white people, the ruling British in this case, treated as rabid mc-nasty villains. We’ve treated so many other cultures that way over the decades (Germans, Japanese, Italians, Chinese, Middle Easterners, and Russians, to name a few formerly obviously villainous probably up-to-no-good groups.)
The alternate reading signifies that, firstly and above all, this is a story. A story about Fire and Water, which represent, respectively, Raju and Bheem. (Watch for all the visual symbolism using fire and water throughout the film.)
The thing about fire and water is that they are generally antagonists. One can’t help but destroy the other.
The opening vignettes introduce us separately to the two as having extraordinary abilities. We’re also shown that Raju works for the British as a policeman. In the action sequence that brings Raju and Bheem together (one that involves both a lot of fire and water), they immediately recognize the hero in the other. As a result, they quickly become best friends.
But what they don’t know about each other will make them as mutually destructive as fire and water. Bheem is in Delhi searching for, and planning to rescue no matter what, a girl, Malli, from his village. She was taken by force from his village by Catherine Buxton, the sadistic wife of a powerful and tyrannical British administrator. Catherine liked the girl’s singing and wanted her “for my mantle.”
[With the exception of Jenny (Olivia Morris), the British are treated largely as animals. If that bothers you… get over it. Take the same It’s-Just-a-Story-We-Don’t-Mean-You pill we’ve been feeding to other cultures for a very long time. And recall the film’s first disclaimer.]
The British are warned someone they should fear is coming to Delhi to rescue Malli. The evil Catherine offers a Special Commendation to any officer who brings this unknown person in alive. Raju wants that reward, badly, and accepts an undercover assignment to find this person.
Who, of course, is Bheem, right? Had to be. But the only face Raju has managed to find is that of Bheem’s aide, Lachhu (Rahul Ramakrishna). Neither Bheem nor Raju have realized the connection yet. Bheem knows he’s being sought, so he’s undercover himself. Naturally neither discusses with the other their real purpose.
Speaking of naturally, one of my notes reads, “So well written — organic!” Plot reasons feel well-grounded in the reality (for all that this is a story), and the characters are rationally motivated and intelligent. The movie holds together beautifully given it’s a superhero action thriller.
It’s also literally beautiful (gorgeous!) and wonderfully musical. The action, color, music, and dance, all make this movie worthy of the word breathtaking. It’s likewise beautiful in the emotional sense, the arc of the two men’s friendship, the inevitable betrayal and downfall of fire or water (I’m not telling), and (if one has any narrative sense at all) the equally inevitable reconciliation.
Another note I have is, “So much movie by 1/2!” In part because halfway through a three-hour movie is a ninety-minute movie — the sort of movie they used to make all the time (and occasionally still do). It’s also because the script packs a lot into it, so the movie never bogs, and the three hours passes quickly (and, oh, so delightfully).
The story is well structured, too. We’re introduced naturally (organically!) to elements that later are significant. For instance, the piggyback fun at one point is instrumental in the final action scene (and a really clever idea, too). You’ll never see it coming, but it follows from events perfectly.
And wow, the crowd scenes are really crowded. Lots of extras. The mob scene that introduces us to Raju is amazing. So different from the fighters-stupidly-stand-around-and-attack-the-hero-separately cliche we see so often.
RRR is filled wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, basement and rafters, with something that is all too often missing from American films: A central core of wild exhilaration and sheer joy. A celebration of color, action, music (and dance), that acts as a beautiful cloak for one hell of a rip-roaring riot of a story.
As a final note, fire and water can also combine to make steam, which is useful for heating, cleaning, driving engines, and, um, steaming stuff. Steam played a huge role in the Industrial Revolution.
The bang or beauty is all in how they’re combined.
Stay RRR, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.