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True Bromance

DVV Entertainment

RRR (2022)

Gatekeeping is and has been a serious problem plaguing international film culture. Even those most deeply immersed are often blissfully ignorant of this fact. A tiny, overwhelmingly white group of tastemakers ­­– programmers, critics, editors, distributors – essentially dictate what is fit for Western consumption. For the past year, nary a week has gone by without at least one new Indian release surfacing at multiplexes across the U.S. thanks to the pandemic-related short supply of Hollywood products. Yet major outlets and critics have deemed these films unworthy of any attention. They would of course never do this with a French film, even one without stars or festival credentials. “RRR,” a Telugu-language Indian film which has so far grossed in excess of $10 million in the U.S. – more than four times what “Drive My Car” made in its theatrical run – did not land a review in The New York Times until 12 days after opening, yet that was better than what most films from that country could get.

Thanks to the collective gushing from those who’ve columbused it, “RRR” will play a one-night-only engagement on June 1 in more than 100 theaters across the U.S., mostly at arthouses that have excluded Indian cinema in the two decades since “Lagaan” garnered an Oscar nomination. The film is precisely the kind of movie white tastemakers would typically thumb their noses at: low-brow, action-packed, crowd-pleasing and decidedly devoid of white gaze.

In 1920, British colonizers Gov. Scott (Ray Stevenson) and his wife Catherine (Alison Doody) kidnap a girl from the Gond tribe. Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao Jr.), the tribal guardian, heads to Delhi under a false identity with intentions of bringing her back. Overachieving cop Ram (Ram Charan), seeking a promotion unfairly denied him due to discrimination, goes undercover in a bid to apprehend Bheem. They encounter each other by chance while rescuing a child after a train explosion. As they remain oblivious to each other’s true identities, a bromance blossoms.

A whole lot happens after that, but we won’t spoil. Though we’ll say this: Many videsiyulu who’ve seen the film, while absolutely loving it, are taken aback by how overwhelmingly antiwhite it is. Never mind that Jenny (Olivia Morris), Gov. Scott’s niece and Bheem’s love interest, is clearly portrayed as one of the unambiguously good ones.

Arguably India’s most bankable filmmaker, with three entries in the nation’s 10 top-grossers of all time, S. S. Rajamouli has a bombastic visual flair undeniable even by froufrou auteurists. He just so happens to be expert at staging over-the-top action sequences. The film’s pièce de resistance, Bheem’s ingenious assault on Scott’s gubernatorial palace, has to be seen to be believed.

The film is three hours long, on par with most Indian films and hardly eyebrow-raising after “Drive My Car” and “The Batman.” With that said, it’s paced exceptionally well. Yes, there’s something formulaic about an Indian movie leading to a huge cliffhanger right before the intermission – or “inteRRRval,” as it is emblazoned on the screen here – then slowing down to build up to the eventual climax. But there is something about the final act that gives “RRR” the gravitas to cement a spot in movie history. Even if its domestic box office receipts have already been overtaken by another 2002 mega hit, the Kannada-language “K.G.F.: Chapter 2,” “RRR” will always have a special place in our hearts.


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