RRR review (Courtesy: rrrmovie)
Cast: N.T. Rama Rao Jr, Ram Charan, Alia Bhatt, Ajay Devgn
Director: S.S. Rajamouli
Rating: Two stars (Out of 5)
In S.S. Rajamouli's new and characteristically overblown action extravaganza, bowdlerized history yields a misshapen monster of epic proportions. Yes, the film is exceedingly effulgent in terms of scale and ambition, but it is a mess that trivialises the under-documented history of tribal resistance against the British Raj and other forces of exploitation that have never ceased to thrive.
Everything in this sweeping saga of hyper-heroism is written in CAPITAL LETTERS, leaving no space for the little inflections and the occasional punctuations that could add depth to the tale of two warring titans fighting against all odds.
The nuance of human struggle, the tenacity of marginalized communities and any meaningful detailing of time, place and characters are beyond the ken of RRR because the movie is intent on wielding the broad brush of fantasy and mythologizing the real battles that real people fought in real terrains a century ago.
RRR has no dearth of visual spectacle and masculine grandstanding, neither of which lends the film any novelty. Ram Charan and NTR Jr throw all their starry weight behind the endeavour and 'manfully' front quite a few of the film's set pieces (including one that has the two actors dancing in tandem with gay abandon). However, what goes before and comes after these packaged 'highs' are more often than not hard to swallow.
The film rings hollow because it never pauses for breath and does not grant its two male protagonists anything akin to recognizable human qualities although they do constantly harp on love and longing. One represents fire, the other water - this is spelt out in a protracted prelude - but what dominates is blood. A lot of it is spilled, but our two heroes are full-blooded warriors. They stand firm against the atrocities that they and their people are subjected to.
One of them, Ram Charan in the guise of a tough British-era policeman A. Rama Raju, charges into an agitated crowd of thousands when a stone is hurled at his bosses. He is surrounded and beaten up by a section of the mob but he comes out of the confrontation almost in one piece, barring a bruise here and a sprained muscle there.
The other protagonist, a simple-minded and idealistic Gond tribal Kumram Bheem, is played by NT Rama Rao Jr. The man kills a tiger barehanded. The deed done he apologizes to the dead animal for having slain it for the greater good. Don't ask what that 'greater good' is, or at least not so early in the movie.
Rama Raju, likewise, is a forest dweller and a sharpshooter who serves the Empire with boundless zeal. He, too, has a cause infinitely greater than the one he seems to be espousing at first flush - he is in line for a promotion owing to the efficiency that he displays in battering "brown rubbish" into submission.
Rama Raju's backstory, briefly hinted at in the first half of the punishingly long film, features Ajay Devgn in a cameo. The other hero's background is revealed right at the outset of the three-hour film - a tribal girl is summarily taken away a British officer's wife and the man commits himself to freeing her from captivity.
The might of the British is represented in RRR by the brutal Governor Scott Buxton (Ray Stevenson) and his vicious wife (Alison Doody). They possess no humanity at all - they treat Indians like animals but they themselves are worse than animals. The film loses no opportunity to rub that in. Narrative subtlety and psychological ambiguity aren't Rajamouli's forte, certainly not in this film.
The take-no-prisoners style and substance of RRR are targeted at fans of Rajamouli's brand of cinema. They will most definitely find a great deal of value in the grandly conceived and choreographed action and the headily heightened emotions. This critic, however, has no patience for a movie that believes that a hero has no right to a moment or two of silence or contemplation in an action drama. When will men in an Indian action movie - or any action movie, for that matter - return to walking like a normal human being and not fly like a bird, leap like a lion and fight like an ape?
The writer-director known for his penchant for fantasy and mythology incorporates both in his reimagining of the lives of two real-life revolutionaries who stood up against unspeakable injustice in the first half of the 20th century in what is now Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. In doing so, he takes the wind out of the history that he so cavalierly fictionalizes.
RRR appropriates the struggle of forest dwellers and tribals and uses it as a mere pretext for an SFX-laden, power-packed cinematic blitzkrieg that flattens all possibility of a genuinely empathetic account of the resistance and rebellion of oppressed people.
The film - it is upfront about the fact that it is a work of fiction - reduces the Rampa rebellion of 1922 (led by Alluri Sitaram Raju) and the Telangana rebellion of 1946 (led by Komaram Bheem) to two broad events condensed into a contemporaneous whole. One centres on the enslavement of a little Gondi girl by the Britishers and the other on a plan to fire up (in a literal sense) a community of forest dwellers.
RRR fancifully transforms one of the rebels with a cause into a personification of Lord Ram and his patient, forever-in-waiting life partner into Sita - that is the name that the character played by Alia Bhatt goes by. His fights take place in and around forest areas - in the climax, he trades British guns and bullets for a good old set of bow and arrows - but no mention is ever made of land forcibly taken away and rights trampled upon.
Ditto for the character of Bheem, who develops a soft spot for Governor Scott's comely niece Jennifer (Olivia Morris) but does not abandon his mission to liberate the Gondi girl imprisoned in the palatial gubernatorial residence. The Gond hero is allowed to acknowledge his identity but his battle on behalf of his people pans out on a blurry canvas that gives reality a wide berth.
RRR is a big-budget production that does not scrimp on anything at all. It lays it on thick - the background score does more than its bit to help. Ram Charan and NTR Jr, too, give it all they have. All of this might have added up nicely and the flair and flash might have genuinely lit up the screen had RRR not been what it essentially is - a willful mockery of a history that is crying out for more thoughtful and respectful treatment.
N.T. Rama Rao Jr, Ram Charan, Alia Bhatt, Ajay Devgn
S S Rajampouli