While reviewing a film like RRR, one needs to walk the talk a bit carefully. After a string of massive box-office hits, expectations from Director Rajamouli are going to be very high, especially when he steers his creative energies towards India's freedom struggle and with his focus on two extremist freedom fighters, played by Jr. NTR and Ram Charan.
Appropriately so, the movie was released on the week that we celebrate Martyr's day. It was on March 22 Bhagat Singh was hanged. Known for his mythological bend towards storytelling, we can see here how Rajamouli is struggling to blend history and mythology.
The Historian's mind focuses on accurate depictions and locations, costumes, cars, guns, etc. While the mythological frame demands visualization in epic proportions. At that level and within the Indian cinema context, full marks to RRR, for the larger than life 'imagery' and breathtaking cinematography by Senthil Kumar, with which the film reaches another level of visualization.
But Mythology can function best only when the core emotions are clearly sketched. Without entering into the story as such, let me try to convey some problems that we encounter. Aptly called 'Roudram Ranam Rudhiram', anger and rage dominate the emotional mindscape. To make this possible, it is important to lay the motivational foundation for our two primary heroic characters, Alluri Sita Rama Raju played by Ram Charan and Komaram Bheem played by Jr NTR.
While Sita Rama Raju takes on a negative character to fulfil his dead father's wishes; Bheema is a self-styled saviour cum hitman, emerging from the Gond tribe to somehow get back a girl who has been kidnapped. For most of the first 90 minutes, it is all about these two dancing, for the other half, they are fighting each other, showing off their very masculine skills.
The contexts for the comic escapades and the fearsome fights are very sketchy but submerged under some spectacular picturization and solid colour schemes. Even in the second half, it takes a good 30 minutes for these two to really understand each other, all thanks to 'oral' statements made by secondary characters.
From here, it delves into full-scale mythology with Sitarama Raju dressed like Lord Rama and Bheemu kicking a motorcycle to launch himself into an ammunition depot on top of the British quarters.
So what we can clearly understand here is that the emotion of 'Roudra'or 'anger' is transformed into a giant circus, a massive spectacle because that is the only way their lethal murderous activities can be softened and diluted. And especially when it comes to one's own Indian anti-colonial history, you don't want to end up giving lessons on staging violence.
By the way, this cinematic attitude is a global convention, even in 'Batman' and 'Superman', it is all about the glamour of violence. Back to RRR, I did feel bad that the film did not attempt to go beyond appealing to the audiences of Andhra or Telangana. Some excellent non-Telugu artists like Alia Bhatt, Ajay Devgn, Shriya Saran, Samuthrakani make very little impact.
There is a scene in which Sitarama Raju publicly flocks Bheemu and in a style belonging to the 60s, NTR Jr sings a song about valour and courage. The staging of the romance between tribal Bheemu and the high-class English young woman was embarrassing at most moments. With such a strong hatred shown to the Indian natives, by the British, how could these two heroes walk into an all-white dance party and get the whites also to dance a 'Koothu Pattu'.
We are all supposed to excuse fun and frolic, but then it loses the core drama and its emotion. No, one is, of course, supposed to question the illogicality in mainstream cinema. But why is there so little interest among Indian filmmakers to portray their own freedom struggle? Why do we fictionalize it so much that it's difficult to understand Indian history?
On the other hand, we have complicated problems when we deal with extremist stories. Because we have always been told that the Indian freedom struggle was done by the moderates – Gandhi, Nehru, Sardar Patel, Azad, and quietly we have left behind the extremists.
We still have many frames on Bhagat Singh. We had Manoj Kumar, and then Sonu Sood, Bobby Deol, Ajay Devgn, and even a small staging of Bhagat Singh in Rang De Basanti. In the regional landscapes, there are very few examples mostly because staging the story is an expensive affair.
With benchmark films like Gowariker's Lagaan and Attenborough's Gandhi and while watching RRR, we need a very stiff comparison. I can understand that it is not an easy task to follow up.
With all the hurdles in such a context, I can confidently say that RRR rests very strongly on the shoulders of Jr NTR and Ram Charan. They have put up a very convincing and sincere performance, committed to their characters and for their sake, it is worth watching the film.