Utterly bonkos, in its own, very “Kill whitey!” way. As such, while I wouldn’t generally be down with RRR’s doctrinal disposition, conforming as it does to the general tenets of wokeism, SS Rajamouli’s colonial epic action fantasy musical is told with such wild, unfettered abandon, and such flair and flourish, it’s frequently irresistible. And I say that aware consummate virtue signaller Adam McKay has recommended it. RRR’s main drawback isn’t so much its facile political posturing as its bloat; at over three hours, the movie’s getting on for twice the length it had any call to be.
One factor to consider in any degree of praise for RRR is that Bollywood aficionados are likely to scoff at any greenhorn discovering this movie, out of all the choicer specimens that might be celebrated every year. That may be true, but as enjoyable as I found it – intermittently; it took me two nights to get through the behemoth – I’m insufficiently inspired to investigate further. It seems, despite an opening disclaimer that this is all fantasy and nothing but, the heroes of the piece are based on an actual couple of revolutionaries who stuck it to the Raj (notably, RRR culminates in a shot of the destroyed colonialist palace’s blood spattered epigraph claiming “The sun never sets on the English Empire”, perhaps to distinguish it from the poor oppressed and subjugated Welsh, Scots and Irish who might otherwise be lumped in with the Empire’s seething, unbridled sadism and downright nastiness).
It would take several thousand words to detail the litany of horrors gleefully inflicted by the English oppressors. Suffice to say, leading the pack of vile curs are Ray Steven’s Governor Buxton and Alison Doody as his wife Catherine (anyone called Buxton is self-evidently soooo evil; just ask Dougal). Ray’s all-but exploding with incensement as he details why his men should never squander an expensive bullet on “brown rubbish”, while Doody, whose horrifying plastic surgery is evidence enough the movie has no interest in period authenticity, lusts openly for pools of Indian blood and has her own cat o’ nine tails with flesh-rending barbs attached (this scene is the director at his most Gibbo martyr-ish; well, barring the bit where NT Rama Rao Jr breaks into song).
The set-up is fairly solid, as these things go. Rao Jr’s Bheem, a kind of svelter, Indian John Belushi, is a tribal guardian who sets off to find a young girl abducted by aforementioned vile curs. Bheem may be able to battle fearsome CGI tigers with the best of them, but he’s an uneducated fellow, which is probably why he even needs to locate a girl who has been taken to the nearest palace by the biggest cheese in the locality in the first place. Like, duh. Ram Charan, meanwhile, much more classically dashing and self-assured, is Raju, an undercover revolutionary working his way up the ranks of the Indian Imperial Police so as to lend his hands on arms. Inevitably, they bond (saving a child from a burning bridge). Inevitably, they clash (conflicting agendas, you know). Inevitably, they makeup (how could Bheem be so wrong about Raju?) Inevitably, they have at the Raj. Hoorah!
From the opening, with one man (Raju) fighting off the mob, it’s evident the filmmaking acumen here is something apart. If this is illustrative of Indian directors’ aptitude for action choreography, they ought to be ousting pretty much every Hollywood hack going (Rajamouli’s last picture, 2017’s Baahubali 2: The Conclusion– catchy title – is estimated to have grossed more than $250m). It figures that Rajamouli adores Mel Gibson’s movies, as Braveheart exhibits the same kind of grisly, over-sized, anti-colonialist bravura.
Indeed, RRR is replete with cartoonish villains, cartoonish heroes, cartoonish romances (Olivia Morris and Alia Bhatt are there to provide good, solid, heterosexual grounding for their beaus), cartoonish bromance – from any other culture, this would be the gayest movie ever; perhaps it still is – cartoonish action, cartoonish dancing and cartoonish sound effects (okay, not quite Looney Tunes, but still).
McKay, presumably because he feels the need to oblige it with patronising western chaperoning, expressed outrage that RRR wouldn’t be up for the Best International Film Oscar and suggested it should get pressganged into a Best Picture nomination instead. Well, if Don’t Look Up, a piece of execrable garbage, can do it, any movie can. Equal parts enervating and exhausting, RRR is often fine and fun, but its more-is-more approach would have landed better if its running time had been less.