How SS Rajamouli’s RRR swept box-offices this year and bewitched audiences across the globe

In 2022, conventional cinema wisdom in India has been completely turned upside down. Large Bollywood tent poles were knocked down at the box office. A trio of films from the south – RRR, KGF2, Kantara – took over multiplexes across India, an unprecedented occurrence in a country that has always had privileged star vehicles from Bollywood. Trade analysts, cultural masters, movie writers have been busy assessing exactly what makes viewers behave in ways they never have, and while it may be too soon to see this southern takeover as a permanent feature, because audiences are so notoriously fickle is, there really is no doubt they turned their backs on the soggy, formulaic Bollywood films, even when they came full of A-list stars.

Which would you choose? SS Rajamouli’s RRR (Roudram Ranam Rudhiram/ Rise Roar Revolt), a thrilling period epic-adventure-mythological concoction that, despite the ultra-loud background music, is exhilarating rather than exhausting? Or the Aditya Chopra-produced Shamshera, who also pursues almost the same mix, but who was dead from frame one on arrival? Good idea, right?

But what has made every stakeholder in the Indian film ecosystem, from producers to purveyors of on-fleek trends, is the RRR phenomenon, which began its theatrical journey in March and has continued its triumphant march through the world as the other desi- offers, and manage to mesmerize both new viewers and die-hard film critics. The RRR juggernaut, no other way to describe it, feels like it’s everything, everywhere, all at once.

It may not have been India’s official choice for the Oscars (that was Pan Nalin’s The Last Film Show), but considering it’s shortlisted in the Music (Original Song) category for Naatu Naatu, we might be in for a dance- off to beat all dance-offs. We watched in both amusement and bewilderment as Los Angeles theaters echoed the song, with people dancing in the aisles. Sure, there may have been a lot more victims in that theater, but there are plenty of TikTok videos of all kinds of people trying the frantic moves of NTR Jr and Ram Charan, the brothers with the most, to get a sense of the frenzied popularity of the song . The first has been replaced Rajinikanth in Japan, by driving female fans into a frenzy; the rousing welcome both stars received at their promotional events was pretty amazing. Rajamouli himself gets standing ovations wherever he’s been: At a talk hosted by the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September, he brought down a packed house.

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Even more notably, the film is gaining popularity among international critics, who have hitherto been either ignorant or dismissive of Indian films, as it is favored by film critic associations in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and more. Lake. Just last week, it was nominated at the Golden Globes, the first Telugu film to do so, for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Song. Even as this is being written, the film ranks ninth on Sight and Sound magazine’s Top 50 Movies of 2022, sprinting ahead of Tom Cruise’s blimp in Top Gun: Maverick.

This makes RRR the first Indian film to surpass the critical/commercial gap outside the country. Most major festival programmers have consistently switched to Indian art cinema. Recent films that made a modest run at the box office in the West were film festival favorites The Lunchbox (2013) and Gangs Of Wasseypur (2012). Those who went straight to theaters and bypassed film festivals — Dangal (2016); PK (2014); Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015); 3 Idiots (2009); Secret Superstar (2017) – are among the top foreign earners to date. The only non-Bollywood film in this list of blockbusters supported by superstars Amir Khan and Salman Khan, is Baahubali 2 (2017) by Rajamouli. But RRR has raced far ahead of not only the sequel to Baahubali (2015), but all other films when it comes to the wholly unexpected collective hosannas from foreign critics.

RRR has raced far ahead of not only the sequel to Baahubali (2015), but all other films when it comes to the wholly unexpected collective hosannas from foreign critics.

What is it about this amped up masala film which is widely edited and based on the elements of the Bollywood films of the 70’s-80’s which captures the imagination of people for whom this might be their first Indian outing is? For those familiar with his work, this isn’t Rajamouli’s first attempt at reviving old-style mythology with advanced technology: even before his Baahubali double program made him a household name in India, he had the hugely entertaining Magadheera created, featuring characters from the past and present.

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Critics of RRR have downplayed the simplistic portrayal of the Gond tribes and the way the story of real-life revolutionaries Komaram Bheem and Alluri Seetrama Raju, on which the main characters are based, and their contribution to the independence movement. to the rules of the film. The prominence of the Hindu iconography – the conversion of Ram Charan’s persona into that of Lord Ram, bow and arrow intact among other things – a Muslim character who conveniently disappears from the story, and the absence of famous freedom fighters make Rajamouli’s world clear. eyes skewed to contemporary India.

But, and this is the point, what Rajamouli has achieved in RRR is astonishing in the way he has created a universe with a signature all his own, with humans and animals, bad guys and good guys, heroes uniting to fight a common enemy , villains exterminated, where good would always triumph over evil. He does it with such agility and conviction that you succumb. This is a well-crafted entertainer, packed with action and emotion, laced with energetic song and dance, and it is this combination that has captivated large parts of the world.

Studio Hollywood’s Marvelization/Disneyfication has resulted in a slew of movies that feel like pale copies of pale copies. It’s hard to think of recent superhero movies (except maybe the latest iterations of Spiderman) that have moved beyond familiar tropes, or been reinvented in a way that helps them stand on their own, rather than becoming just one more in the making. assembly line of sequels and prequels. This is where RRR, with its full embrace of everything Rajamouli knows from the inside, stood out.

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Just because RRR is this season’s flavor, will more of our masala movies find equal favor outside of India in the future? Or will it be a flash in the pan? The almost unstoppable advance feels unreal, making you wonder if this is some kind of “let’s-give-this-part-of-Indian-exotics-a-chance” year. But at the same time, the performance feels much more solid. RRR is a clarion call for entertainment fans around the world, and its numbers have grown exponentially since the release of Netflix. Whether it will win the Oscars is up in the air, but RRR and the three Rs that made it what it is are the clear winners of 2022.

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