by Alvin G. Burstein
Although I miss the silver screen and the ambience of the movie theatre, I have found that streamed television has given me access to films that I might not have encountered in a theatre.
RRR, released 2022, is one of those. When I learned film writer and critic Robert Cargill described it as the “craziest, most sincere, weirdest blockbuster,” I searched for it on Netflix and settled myself down for its over three hour running time. The RRR of the title are from Telugu, one of the major languages spoken in the sub-continent of India. The three R’s are taken for the three individuals who developed this film, Rajamouli, Ram Charan and Rama Rao. They also stand for Roudram, Ranam, Rudhiram. Translated into English as Fierce, Fear, Death, they bespeak a serious, even ominous element in this Indian film. The film is dubbed and subtitled in English, and, I would guess, several Indian dialects.
Ferocity, fear and death abound in the film, but another element of the movie is providing an origin myth with the hopeful intent of uniting the complex of societies and cultures in the sub-continent of India, in the same way that the myth of Romulus and Remus helped bring the varied elements of the Italian peninsula together into a nation.
The film does so by propagating a myth about two well-known figures who fought against the colonial rulers of India during the first half of the 20th century, Komoram Bheem and Alluri Sitarama Raja. These two, who never in fact met, are mythologized by providing them with invented back-stories and differing relationships with their common enemy.
Bheem becomes the shepherd of a tribe, one of whose members, a young girl, is abducted, stolen from her mother by the British Raj, Governor Scott Buxton and his wife. Bheem embarks on a long and dangerous quest to recover the child and return her to her family.
At the same time, Alluri Raja is portrayed as a “good” Indian, one who is seeking to succeed as a British soldier under the Raj’s command. Because of his color he is denied deserved promotion. Later, promised a valued position if he discovers and punishes those whom the Raj hears are seeking to recover the child, he swears to accomplish that mission.
Without recognizing each other, these fatefully opposed crusaders, Bheem and Raja, by chance, meet in a shared effort to rescue a young boy caught in an accidental marine inferno. Their joint effort welds them into a companionship diametrically their competing but secret missions. They become boon companions. The more sophisticated Raja helps the more rustic Bheem attract the beautiful daughter of the Raj, in whose household the abducted child is held. Their companionship reaches a crescendo when the duo involves a large social gathering at the Raj’s palatial home in a long weird and wild song and dance scene, Naacho Naacho (Dance Dance), thatvleaves everyone exhausted—except Bheem.
Raja ultimately identifies, captures and tortures Bheem,winning his reward from the Raj. But when Raja is poisoned by another of the revolutionaries he has captured, Bheem saves his life. The two of them then collaborate to touch off a revolution that involves unleashing a horde of wild animals and the bloody death of scores of British including the Raj and his wife.
In what I take to be an unintentional irony, an announcement at the film’s beginning assures us that no real animals are used in the film—they are computer generated avatars.
Cargill was right. This is a crazy, sincere, weird blockbuster meant, I think, to propagate an origin myth intended to help all Indians, maybe all humans, become brothers.