1920s India. When British Governor Scott Buxton (Ray Stevenson) kidnaps child Malli (Twinkle Sharma) from his village, his brother Komaram Bheem (NT Rama Rao Jr) swears to bring her back. During his mission, he forms a quick friendship with Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan), but Bheem is unaware of Raju’s hidden agenda.
If the detailed social realism of the Dardenne brothers represents a type of cinema, RRR is its polar opposite. SS Rajamouli’s three-plus-hour epic is a riot of outrageous spectacle, gravity-defying stunts, color, song and dance, high emotion, and a menagerie of CG animals. It feels like the kind of movie that looks great in a clip on Twitter but is underwhelming when you sit down and watch the whole thing. But do not be afraid – RRR (it stands for “Rise! Roar! Revolt!”) is a big, showy, subtle slice of escapist cinema that’s fun from first frame to last.
Set in 1920s India, the plot as it is pits soldier Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan) and villager Komaram Bheem (NT Rama Rao Jr) against the British Empire, represented by Governor Scott Buxton (Ray Stevenson, Terrible) and his even more vindictive wife Catherine (Alison Doody, who wields a particularly nasty whip in remembrance of her IndianaJones days), after the British kidnapped Bheem’s little sister. Raju and Bheem are fantastically presented – the former performing an in-camera version of The Matrix Reloaded‘s ‘burly brawl’ to apprehend a tort’un, the latter overtaking a wolf then screaming down a tiger – then come together to rescue a little boy in a burning river (don’t ask) with the help of a motorcycle, a horse, a rope and a ridiculous knack that puts Spider Man bridge-saves to shame. It’s all in the first half hour.
RRR never runs out of steam – the dust from the final jungle battle is as fresh as the opening scene.
From there, the inventiveness and originality of the action reach dizzying levels, often completely unaware of the laws of physics. The quality of the visual effects is variable but that doesn’t matter, partly because Rajamouli has such a good eye for cheeky heroic movies and partly because he’s so witty that he’s easy to take away (namely, there’s a fantastic set piece as Raju hits the British stooges while being hoisted onto Bheem’s shoulders).
Between the fights there are heavy, John Woo-esque thematics (loyalty, brotherhood, identity), weak comedy as Bheem tries to woo English rose Jenny (Olivia Morris) and catchy musical numbers – the best of the bunch being a dance as Raju and Bheem show the Raj’s stiff shirts how it’s done. The plot is grating and the writing clumsy (“Take the special forces and nail the bastards”), but it wins thanks to the bravery of Rajamouli, the contagious charisma of Charan and Rama Rao Jr, ace of cinema (l enormous talent of MM Keeravani score, the propulsive editing of A. Sreeker Prasad) and the imagination of the stunt team. RRR never runs out of steam – the dust from the final jungle battle is as fresh as the opening scene – meaning 185 minutes ticks by in the blink of a digital tiger’s eye.
It may have a tenuous relationship to nuance, but RRR is an explosive delight. By making the Fast And Furious series look restrained by comparison, it hits the parts that Hollywood actors just can’t reach. To go up! Roar! Revelation!