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Rajamouli's 'RRR' … Step Right Up, It's the Greatest Show on Earth

Two men on a moped
[L-R] Ram Charan as RAAM, N.T. Rama Rao, Jr. as BHEEM in RRR

Tollywood director S.S. Rajamouli defies all expectations and delivers an action-packed alternative history that is part circus, part cinema. How do I describe RRR? It's like an Indian Fast and Furious movie, a superhero flick, and an old Hollywood epic came together to have one giant loveable baby. Originally released in the Telugu language, Rajamouli's blockbuster now streams on Netflix with a Hindi dub. Although murmuring started in March about the greatness, most American audiences slept on the opportunity to view RRR in theaters. While I was lucky enough to be one of the few who clocked in on the theatrical event – which was glorious — never fear. The streaming version still dazzles, even on the smaller screen.

RRR posits the idea that two-real life revolutionaries in 1920s India met and became best friends, based on shared values and an inability to quit. During the time of colonization, an administrator's wife named Catherine (Alison Doody; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) visits the Gond tribe and cruelly steals Malli (Twinkle Sharma), a young girl with the voice of an angel, and holds her prisoner in the residential palace. Komaram Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao, Jr.), of the Gond people, travels to Delhi and bides his time until he can rescue the frightened girl.

 Ram Charan as RAAM in RRR
Meanwhile Alluri Sitarama Raju, shortened to Raam (Ram Charan), a soldier in the Indian Imperial police, rises in the ranks by being the man who can get things done when others fall back. There's a story behind his razor sharp focus, but like the most intriguing characters, we won't know the truth of Raam's true objective until much later in the movie. Catherine assigns Raam the task of arresting Bheem and bringing him to her for disposal.

With seemingly opposite agendas, nonetheless, Raam and Bheem meet by happy circumstance when they work together to save a little boy's life. The two of them quickly become friends, although, out of fear or protection, neither reveals the information that would allow them to see they are, in fact, enemies. Instead, they bond in the male way – through friendly competition and feats of derring-do. A joyous bromance blossoms that viewers will find infectious. As the story progresses, the two men must discover and re-discover what it means to inspire a revolution, bring justice, and defeat the enemy.

N.T. Rama Rao, Jr. as BHEEM in RRR
Rajamouli's masterpiece must be seen to be believed. Mind-blowing choreography and high speed stunts defy the laws of physics in ways that Dom Torero could never imagine. Multiple dance numbers make you want to throw back your hands and join in the celebration. RRR sends viewers through a time machine to the days when going to a movie was an event the whole family could enjoy. There's tigers, chase sequences, motorcycles, fires, surprises, plot twists, and even romance. Remember when movies had a clear good guy and bad guy? And the audience would boo when the bad guy showed their face? RRR is that kind of movie. You want to audibly respond to the action on screen.

The two heroes both want to change their world but in different ways. Raam is fire and Bheem, water. These written descriptors show up on screen explicitly. But the analogy gets played out in many aspects. Raam is fire, often wearing red or warm colors. Both the more charming and seemingly violent of the two, Raam quickly takes action. He requires no provocation and has developed a laser-beam focus. Sacrifices must be made in Raam's world, and no loss is too great, as long as the mission comes to pass. Bheem is water, a gentle warrior, often wearing tones of gray. Towards the beginning, a messenger describes Bheem as a shepherd that will leave the flock to bring back one lost lamb. Slow to act but easy to underestimate, Bheem is a protector that only rises up when an innocent is at risk. Bheem believes in the power of sacrifice, and his strength comes from his legs and core. The camera makes quite a fuss over this aspect, as it contrasts with Raam, who uses his arms. One particular fight scene makes intriguing use of these complementary body strengths. The men are opposites, but they are also equals and two halves of a sphere. While they appear to have opposite agendas and completely different ways of accomplishing those goals, they have much to teach each other, and we get to experience it all alongside them.

[L-R] Ram Charan as RAAM, N.T. Rama Rao, Jr. as BHEEM in RRR

Only one part was difficult for me to swallow. A character gets flogged, and the character deals with the trial by singing. Being from a culture where the iconography of flogging is greatly paired with the passion of the Christ, it's hard to fathom anyone choosing that moment to belt out a tune. I almost wanted to laugh. This is not something Mel Gibson ever imagined. However, RRR makes use of musical numbers for very different reasons than in traditional Hollywood/Broadway musicals or even as seen in Bollywood musicals. "Naatu Naatu," the big dance sequence number in the first act, will get your toes tapping, but it's not just a fun song. It's a dance battle that signifies a rise against the oppression of the British colonizers. Likewise, the song during the flogging, "Komuram Bheemudo," is another statement of revolt and strength and used to inspire the crowds. Still, it's an awkward thing to watch. RRR has a fantastical storytelling style. Once viewers accept these two are no ordinary humans, the pill is easier to swallow.

Don't miss RRR. The three-hour runtime and subtitles should not be a hindrance. We are led through this epic bromance, each step of the way. And the chapters even make it easy to break into segments, if the time is truly a hindrance. This is my favorite movie of the year and epitomizes what movies have always been meant to be – shared community experiences that leave you breathless and amazed.

Release info: Hindi dub of Telugu-language film on Netflix May 20, 2022

Final score: 5 out of 5