A long-standing debate in film has been whether cinema is entertainment or art. While I find this idea of a zero-sum game quite sad and unfair, every once in a while there comes a movie that decimates this misconception by being an incredibly entertaining and artistic masterpiece simultaneously. There were a couple of films like these in 2022 but, in my opinion, none more viscerally representative of my point than S. S. Rajamouli’s RRR (Rise, Roar, Revolt).
A fictional colonial revenge fantasy set in 1920s India under British rule, RRR follows Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan), an Indian imperial policeman, and Komaram Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.), a tribal on a mission to rescue a girl kidnapped by a British administrator. Without knowing each other’s true identities and intentions, circumstances lead these two characters with incompatible goals to meet and become best friends.
The themes of friendship, betrayal and duty run strongly though the story as the two friends learn the truth about each other, and Raju reveals why he joined the police. Through these fascinating characters, Rajamouli constructs a fantastical and exhilarating portrait of the Indian independence struggle — unflinching and triumphant in its scale and thrill.
The action sequences are breathtaking and characteristically over-the-top, following the Rajamouli and broader South Indian cinematic tradition. Most notable is the scene where Bheem breaks into the British palace with a truck full of wild animals. That sequence alone reminded me of why I fell in love with movies in the first place: Where else can you find the insane thrill of tigers, bears and oxen jumping out of a truck and attacking a courtyard of colonizers?
The music of RRR has also received widespread acclaim, especially “Naatu Naatu,” the song used in the famous dance-off in the movie. Having won Best Original Song at the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Awards and nominated at the 2023 Academy Awards, this song, along with composer M. M. Keeravani, has been the face of RRR’s success in the West.
The sheer scale of RRR is breathtaking with its elaborate set pieces, from the British administrator’s palace to the jungles of India. Rajamouli uses visual effects to not just create the setting and background but actually employs then to also choreograph incredible action sequences that are marvelous in their exaggeration. These might seem jarring to people without any experience of South Indian cinema, but once you suspend your disbelief, you will be introduced to a whole new world of unmitigated fun and romp.
Yet, despite its massive scale, RRR also succeeds unequivocally in presenting personal stories. The friendship between Raju and Bheem remains the focus of the film despite the wild action, and the two leads complement each other extremely well. It is a delight to see them together through the dance-offs and action sequences, holding their own against the gigantic set pieces.
The dance to “Naatu Naatu” warrants an especially enthusiastic applause. As truly one of the best scenes of the movie, it is the culmination of an extremely rich tradition of music in Indian cinema. Choreographer Prem Rakshith and actors Charan and Rao Jr. absolutely hit it out of the park with an iconic dance executed to perfection.
RRR is the epic that, as far as I can tell, Hollywood has not yet dared to make. What is even more impressive is that this is not even the first time director Rajamouli has accomplished such a feat. His previous films, especially the Baahubali franchise, were groundbreaking in their scale and became cultural phenomena all over India and the world. After years of producing triumphant hits, it is great to see him getting more recognition worldwide.
Despite all this, it is important to remember that RRR is just one of the many amazing movies produced by Indian cinema. A massive industry made of Bollywood, Tollywood and an incredible diversity of regional cinema awaits to be explored. Films like RRR have smashed open the door to this treasure to the world.
With music, dancing, romance, intense drama and action, RRR is the complete package. It was the first movie in a long time that made me feel an excitement I had forgotten about. It reinvigorated my love for cinema and reminded me of what can be accomplished by mere mortals and their imagination. I highly recommend everyone to watch it if they get the chance, for you will surely be exposed to something you’ve likely never seen before.