Are we still having fun at the movies? In times like these, this seems like one of the more salient questions when writing about entertainment. And the answer, more often than not, is no. Marvel movies were fun at one point but now seem almost interminably stodgy with their long runtimes and desaturated color palette only leavened by a sprinkling of Joss Whedon-esque irony. DC movies aren’t even trying to be fun – emo Batman, anyone?
But if American blockbuster films have foreclosed fun, we can’t say the same for Indian ones; S.S. Rajamouli’s RRR is nothing but a good time from start to finish. Indian films – both Bollywood (Hindi language) and Tollywood (Telugu language) – are regularly distributed across the U.S. by smaller distributors who target diaspora audiences looking for a way to watch their national cinema, and for those audiences, RRR is one of the biggest releases of the year. I saw it a few months ago at the AMC Waterfront in a theatre packed with Indian families.
Now, the film is getting an encore showing at the Harris Theater in its undubbed form on Wed., June 1. (The original version of the film is in Telugu, one of India’s many native languages, while the only version of the film available on Netflix right now is dubbed into Hindi.)
The film imagines a friendship between two real Indian revolutionaries, Alluri Sitarama Raju (played by the incredibly handsome Ram Charan) and Komaram Bheem (portrayed by the sweetly goofy N. T. Rama Rao Jr.). Bheem is a warrior from the Gond tribe and finds his way to Delhi after a hilariously cartoonish British Governor and his frighteningly Botoxed wife kidnap and enslave a child from the tribe. He plans to rescue her, and along the way befriends Raju – who, unbeknownst to Bheem, is a fearsomely brutal police officer serving the British government who has been tasked with going undercover as a revolutionary to find and arrest Bheem. I won’t spoil the various twists and turns, but needless to say, the two eventually team up to take down the evil colonizers while looking badass and winning the hearts of every woman they encounter.
Like many Bollywood films, the runtime clocks in at just under three hours. But if three hours in the hands of Marvel Studios can feel plodding and repetitive, three hours in the hands of Rajamouli is almost hysterical with various delights. An early action sequence where Raju quells an angry mob of locals threatening to overthrow the British government is one of the best-choreographed action sequences I’ve seen in a long time, the camera and editing moving frenetically to follow each blow as Raju mechanically demolishes the crowd a blow at a time. It rules!
The scene where Raju and Bheem finally meet involves a train exploding and derailing into a river, which subsequently catches on fire with a child stranded on a piece of debris. The two bros lock eyes and seemingly telepathically come up with a plan to save the kid, one that involves them diving off opposite ends of the train bridge connected by a rope, and swinging through the flames to grab the kid and bring him to safety. It also rules!
At one point, the two have a dance-off so powerful it manages to wreck the dance floor and bring the mealy-looking British boys surrounding them to tears while sending the women into full-blown swoons. It ... well, you get the point.
In short, this is the ultimate “dudes rock” movie, one where the bond between the two superhuman revolutionaries is so powerful it turns every filmmaking excess into an expression of the cosmic alignment between them. And they are true revolutionaries; the epic violence the film depicts is always anti-colonial violence in service of independence. By comparison, the politics that power American blockbusters are milquetoast and/or incomprehensible – the only thing that justifies their plots is the studio executive’s emphasis on recognizable intellectual property as a way to drive up box office totals. If our system can only produce movies that refuse to make the most of their astronomical budgets, why not look elsewhere? RRR is a good place to start.
RRR. 8 p.m. Wed., June 1. Harris Theater. 809 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $10-12. trustarts.org