StoRy: FiRe vs WateR

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.)

Komaram Bheem (left) and Alluri Sitarama Raju (right)

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.

Bheem and the (CGI) tiger.

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.)

Raju firing arrow. Through a lot of fire.

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.

Best friends (rescuer) Bheem and (undercover) Raju.

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.

A dance off where the two friends blow the doors off a snotty Brit.

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.

The two are contrasted even in how they roll (or ride).

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.

Easy nomination for Most Creative Action Scene I’ve seen in a long time.

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.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

16 responses to “StoRy: FiRe vs WateR

  • Wyrd Smythe

    If you got this far and still haven’t seen the movie, [A] you either don’t follow directions very well or don’t trust me, but [2] regardless, go see this movie right now anyway!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Last night, it still being Sci-Fi Saturday, I watched a new Norwegian science fiction movie, Blasted. Cute enough that I gave it a thumbs up, but nothing stellar. I give an Eh! rating. Worth seeing if you’re into foreign films, especially foreign science fiction films.

  • Anonymole

    Anything must be better than the recent adventure/comedies peddled by the streaming circuses. (red notice, uncharted, the lost city — gah, what utter drivel. Panem et circenses.)

  • Mark Edward Jabbour

    I’m down. Question is: Which consciousness should I watch it in? All three?

  • Mark Edward Jabbour

    I watched it. But it took me two shifts. The kindest thing I can say is: It’s not for me. But then, I’m not a big Action Movie guy. It was: loud, colorful, and super violent; with lots of slow-motion fighting and fiery explosions, and CGI. Cartoonish? Two stars. In some ways it was similar to THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, which is on my top 27 movies of all time. If you want to check out my list:

    There I speak of what I like about movies (all American made).

    I’ve just started watching movies and series (on Netflix) from other countries.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’m impressed, then, that you stayed for the whole three hours. Even came back for a second shift. Certainly, if one isn’t into action films, and/or the fantastical, then RRR wouldn’t be much fun. Roger Ebert once wrote that he was over action films. At the time, I was still high on films with Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Van Damme, Willis, etc. But over the years I came to see what he meant, so I can appreciate where you’re coming from. I still rather like the athleticism of Asian martial arts films, but it takes something pretty special now when it comes to action films. And RRR certainly is special. But the caveat “If You’re Into That Sort of Thing” always applies.

      I visited your movie list page and tried to post a comment. Twice. But both times I got Error: Please fill the required fields. But I saw no fields to fill in. I’ve gotten that before on your site, not sure why, but FYI. My attempted comment was:

      I think the things we gather as favorites clearly reflect who we are. Or at least our interests. I’m afraid the intersection of our favorite movie lists isn’t large. Pulp Fiction and Body Heat are two favorites, though. (Have you ever seen Wild Things?) I very much enjoyed Heat, it’s outstanding (love the scene between the two), and likewise Casablanca, of course (but my heart loves The Maltese Falcon even more). And I liked most of Eastwood’s work, old and new, not just A Fistful of Dollars (but what a classic).

      But that’s the Favorites axis. A lot more, if not all, rank high on the Quality axis but just aren’t my cup of tea. (Or in my case, since I don’t drink tea or coffee, mug of beer.)

      FWIW: My Movie Favorites List

      But it’s not exhaustive. Or even entirely current.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Screen Junkies did an Honest Trailer for RRR that’s kind of cute:

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Here’s the official trailer:

    In Telugu, the film’s actual language. Netflix apparently doesn’t have a license for Telugu, so the best (or least worst) audio track is the Hindi one, which is actually a dub.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    The first of two notable musical numbers, this one is sheer fun. It’s the dance-off Raju and Bheem do:

  • Wyrd Smythe

    The second musical number is much deeper and disturbing. It comes when Bheem is being tortured by Raju at the insistence of the Evil Buxton family. It’s a heart-wrenching beautifully rendered song of strength and defiance:

    It’s an interesting contrast to the typically symphonic (even operatic) music sometimes used in contrast to violent, bloody visuals (the mass assassination scene at the end of the first The Godfather movie is a canonical example). Here the musical contrast is far more personal and comes directly from the subject of the violence. Very powerful.

  • Everything Everywhere All At Once | Logos con carne

    […] with RRR (see StoRy: FiRe vs WateR), this one has also been a monster popular and critical success. A film the proverbial […]

  • 2022: I Hardly Knew Ya | Logos con carne

    […] Topping that list: R.R.R. — I found it as profoundly affecting watching it a second time as I did the first. It’s one of those movies with so much packed into it that the more you learn about it, the more interesting it becomes. (See this post.) […]

  • Friday Notes (Jan 27, 2023) | Logos con carne

    […] for movies like Mission: Impossible or R.R.R. (which I rewatched and loved all over again — see StoRy: FiRe vs WateR for more about the […]

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