If, like me, you are not really familiar with Indian action-blockbusters, RRR is going to feel like a revelation. It is a real epic, both in length and expression, as it charts the fictionalised tales of two early 20th Century revolutionaries fighting against British oppression. For those of us who think of Hollywood when we think of blockbusters, RRR sits firmly in the category of what you wish blockbusters were, but never really are. It is bursting with action, fun and creativity; it has a political backbone that’s worthwhile and it actually delivers on spectacle. Perhaps, to those already initiated in this style of film, it may not feel as bold, as original and as much of a beautiful antidote. But, even on its own terms, it is a real triumph.
To a large extent, RRR gives the kind of action (and narrative framework) that you would expect comic book movies to offer. Our heroes are based on real life people (Allun Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem) and the story is kind of fan fiction wish fulfilment: what if these two heroic figures met up and had a bromance, what if they raged against the machine of imperialism together and what if they could throw motorbikes at people? Our pair frequently pull of superhuman feats, hence the comic book feel, in a film that wants to capture the legendary essence of these figures and to concretely mythologise them. Yet, with this, the film still has heft and passion. Our friends have a believable and passionate relationship that feels human. Unlike most of your modern superhero films, this manages to feel both emotionally engaging and satisfying as an action film. The hyperbolic sequences aren’t frictionless or weightless and, though they are never realistic, they don’t seem inconsequential or silly.
This is mostly because of the audacity of the whole thing. RRR commits. It commits to being bloody; it commits to a political framing and it commits to delivering you a succession of sequences each more bold than the last. Where Hollywood blockbusters continue to give us what we’ve already seen, RRR wants to give you utter novelty. It does not feel bound by physics or convention, but it does stay true to its characters. There is so much work put into emotional clarity, to the point of melodrama, that we always have a reason to care. Even when our heroes can overpower hordes of foes effortlessly, like it’s a Dynasty Warriors videogame, there are dramatic and character based stakes that help it all to work. The action is allowed to flourish as pure spectacle and the storytelling that takes us from adrenaline burst to adrenaline burst is genuinely entertaining, and actually quite enthralling.
For most audiences, the closest touchstones will either be retellings of Greek mythology or anime. It is so determined to express things beyond reality while basing itself in the real world, creating godlike protagonists as a form of hero worship. The result of this is a simple political expression, but a cathartic one. This is a film of single agents breaking the state due to their individual strength, while talking about collective struggle. The lack of realism to our protagonists makes them more metaphoric of uprising as opposed to individualist fantasies. The promotion of collective action is enough, the aesthetics are just interested in the sheer celebration of anti-imperialist action. Fundamentally, it is an anti-imperial cartoon, and that’s a hell of a thing to be.
Admittedly, these hyperbolised stakes can limit things. Our overall narrative is a fun one, predictable but presented in a way in conversation with its own predictability. You know what it is pulling towards and you are waiting for the characters to realise and to receive the satisfactions that are just around the corner. The arc doesn’t always work, though, with a key plot point being a person pretending to be what they are against so that they can eventually take action. Things are pushed a bit far in terms of what they are willing to do, which may lose the viewer at points. The grander narrative is always the focus, meaning that the incidental moments that make it up can (and do) sometimes fall short. The film is full of joyous action and energy, but sometimes that excitement is oddly placed.
As a whole, though, RRR feels special. It has a frenetic pace that would allow it to be longer than its three hours. Actually, the plotting and eventual emotional satisfaction would be better facilitated by an even longer movie. The amount of sheer incident and plot can take over, but these incidents are pretty incredible. This is a film where people unleash crowds of wild-animals on imperialist forces, where they jettison flaming motorbikes and where one man can take down an entire army. It is also a film that will break out into song and dance, and use this as an anti-imperialist expression. Eventually, the spectacle overshadows the promised (and well cultivated) intimacy of the opening act, but it is so overwhelming that it doesn’t feel like a shame in the moment. Yes, RRR could be more in places, but it is so much where it counts and is still going to blow you away.