Reality is out the window, and the stunts are stunning. Watching RRR means forgetting about conventional notions of how the world works. Characters leap tremendous distances, throw motorcycles through the air, and outrun and outwit tigers on their own turf. It would be pure chaos if Rajamouli didn’t orchestrate it so gracefully. He shifts in and out of slow motion with a stuttering rhythm, letting the awesomeness of his images dictate how long he holds a shot. (There are shades of John Woo’s work both in his visual style and in a plot driven by friends who might be rivals but ultimately share a common cause.) RRR is set in a world whose physics operate by movie logic and controlled by an expert choreographer (who occasionally lets full-on musical sequences take over the film). The set pieces go on and on, resurgent after they’ve seemingly reached their climax. The effects seldom look convincing but they’re breathtaking anyway, helping the film create a reality all its own.
It’s a fun reality to get lost in. It’s not fair to the film (or Indian filmmaking in general) to judge RRR by how it compares to Hollywood’s action spectaculars, but it’s worth noting that Rajamouli’s idea of blockbuster filmmaking is refreshingly different than a dominant Hollywood style that builds films around the work of previsualization teams. Anyone tired of that style, or just wanting a break from it, should look to this as a breath of fresh air.
It’s not overtly political (which makes it kind of political). The same opening statement that assures viewers no animals were harmed in making the film also notes RRR is “set in the backdrop of pre-independent India and is purely fictional […] The director or the technicians of the movie have no intention of maligning the beliefs of any individual or group.” That’s fair enough. The British, apart from one sympathetic woman smitten with Bheem, are all snarling racist bad guys and history does little to dispute that view.
They serve as easy-to-agree-upon villains for a film that concludes with a long, (literally) flag-waving patriotic musical number celebrating India that reminds viewers “there is an iron man in every lane and home,” almost as if we’ve just been watching a three-hour recruitment film. RRR’s appearance coincides with a surge of Narendra Modi-stoked nationalism in the country, and while Rajamouli’s film doesn’t overtly celebrate that trend it does little to contradict it.
In a dive into the politics around the film, Slate’s Nitish Pahwa points to the pointed absence of Muslim figures from the icons of revolutionary heroes included in the final dance numbers, explores how the film reinforces stereotypes via the Gond characters, and uses references to the Ramayana to confirm the caste system. As portions of India, like America, try to look back to an imaginary simpler time for solutions to present problems, RRR, in Babu’s words, reinforces a “regressive status-quo maintaining upper-caste Hindu fantasy set in the pre-independence era India.”
All that’s beneath the surface, however, and what’s on the surface is tremendously entertaining. When Bheem and Raju first spy each other from a distance they come to the instant understanding that they’ve met someone they’ve been searching for their whole life but didn’t know it. Those looking for a giddy, enthralling film of the kind they’re never seen before will share that feeling when they discover RRR.