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‘RRR’ Review: SS Rajamouli’s Glorious Indian Action Spectacle

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“Delirious” is the word to describe SS Rajamouli’s Indian action-adventure film that has become a worldwide phenomenon both in theaters and on Netflix since its summer release.

This Telugu-language big-budget spectacle starring Tollywood superstars NT Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan as revolutionaries fighting against the British Raj in 1920 features the sort of dizzyingly over-the-top action sequences and exuberant musical numbers that send audiences into a frenzy. Wildly entertaining for every minute of its three hour-plus running time, RRR has become one of India’s highest-grossing films of all time and is now generating Oscar buzz.

RRR

The Bottom Line

You won’t be bored for a nanosecond.

Cast: NT Rama Rao Jr., Ram Charan, Ajay Devgn, Alia Bhatt, Shriya Saran, Samuthirakani, Ray Stevenson, Alison Doody, Olivia Morris
Director-screenwriter: SS Rajamouli

3 hours 7 minutes

Although the central characters are based on real-life historical figures, RRR (the title stands for “Rise, Roar, Revolt”) is strictly fictional, as one of the most extensive opening disclaimers ever seen onscreen takes pains to emphasize. (We’re also assured that all of the animals seen in the film, and there are plenty, are strictly CGI. Which is definitely a good thing for them.)

We’re introduced to the lead characters in two bravura action sequences before the opening credits, which don’t appear until some 40 minutes into the film. Ramo Rao Jr. plays Bheem, a burly member of the Gond tribe who attempts to trap a wolf only to come into hand-to-paw combat with a rampaging tiger, whom he manages to subdue through a combination of cunning and superhuman strength. Charan plays Raju, a seemingly superhuman Indian member of the British police who, when first seen, dives into a raging mob of what seems like thousands of rioting Indians to subdue a criminal and somehow manages to fight all of them off successfully.

When a little girl from his tribe is abducted by an evil British governor (Ray Stevenson, leaning heavily into his cartoonish role) who regards Indians as “brown rubbish,” and his equally wicked wife (Alison Doody, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), Bheem embarks for Delhi on a rescue mission. There he encounters Raju in an action-movie version of a “meet cute,” the pair making their acquaintance via a daring joint rescue of a boy from a burning river in a sequence that rivals anything James Cameron or Steven Spielberg has ever devised.

Together, the two plot to advance their revolutionary cause, with Bheem unaware of Raju’s actual role working undercover for the British empire (at least, for a while). Many, many plot machinations ensue, but they go by in such fast and furious fashion that you won’t particularly care if you don’t keep up with them. There’s a subplot involving Bheem’s courtship of the governor’s unprejudiced niece (a charming Oliva Morris), which provides some comic relief, not that anything in the film is really meant to be taken seriously.

And, of course, there are musical numbers, including the instant classic “Naatu Naatu,” in which Raju and Bheem engage in a frenetically athletic dance-off with rhythm-challenged Brits that would have made MGM’s Arthur Freed proud. (I watched the film on Netflix, and can only imagine the hysteria the scene must have induced in theaters.)

Director Rajamouli, who in just seven years is already responsible for three of India’s highest-grossing films of all time, displays his obvious love of popular cinema in every wildly colorful, overstuffed frame. No matter that the CGI or aerial wire work is sometimes all too obvious, or that the frequent use of slow-motion borders on parody. It’s all presented in such a visually dazzling fashion that your eyes are fully satisfied before your brain can make any objections.

And the two endlessly charismatic lead actors display such dynamic physicality in their hyper-muscular performances that they fairly burst from the screen. Their characters provide the most evocative screen bromance since Butch and Sundance.



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