Indian cinema makes international splash with ‘RRR’

N.T. Rama Roa Jr. (left) and Ram Charan portray two Indian revolutionaries in the epic Indian adventure film “RRR,” now on Netflix.

In the west, the American/Canadian and British film industries are the most popular in many countries in terms of box office numbers, awards recognition and views on streaming. But for the rest of the world as a whole, the film market with the biggest box office numbers is the Chinese film industry.

But who makes the most movies every year? Blowing China, Hollywood and the U.K. out of the water by producing more films than those three combined is India, which also makes it the country with the largest number of tickets sold.

Making just shy of 2,500 films in 2019 — compared to only about 700 in the United States — Indian cinema is far and away the best producer of movies in the world, but its box office numbers are dwindling compared to the likes of China, South Korea and Japan in terms of Asian crossover into Europe and the Americas.

Thankfully, there is a new film taking the cinephile world by storm and has the best chance of bringing Bollywood, Tollywood, Mollywood and the rest of the Indian movie-woods to the mainstream.

“RRR” is directed by S.S. Rajamouli — India’s answer to the likes of James Cameron and Peter Jackson — and is a fictional story about two real-life Indian revolutionaries, Alluri Sitarama Raju (played by Ram Charan) and Komaram Bheem (N.T. Rama Roa Jr.), and their fight against the British Raj.

Although only made for about $72 million U.S., it is actually the most expensive Indian film of all time, and every single one of those dollars is on the screen throughout its three-hour runtime. The Indian countryside comes to life in this adventure epic that has everything from over-the-top action to musical dance scenes, from romantic comedy to historical drama and everything in between.

Set during the British era occupation of India, a young girl named Malli is taken away from her rural village by British governor Scott Buxton and his wife, Catherine, against the wishes of her parents. Rama Raju, an Indian cop who works for the British army, is very ruthless to revolutionary Indians but he is never credited for his due by the British government.

Meanwhile, the British government finds that tribal guard Komaram Bheem, who considers Malli a sister, has started his search for her and could be an obstacle for the British army. The governor and his wife announce a special post for any officer who can bring Bheem to them, and Rama Raju decides to take matters into his own hands and promises the government to bring him dead or alive.

Bheem by now has reached the city in search of Malli and pretends to be a mechanic. During a train accident over a lake, Bheem and Rama Raju risk their lives and save a kid and quickly become best of friends. But both men will clash with each other to complete their missions without realizing the other is their greatest obstacle.

Although its protagonists are real people, the film is fantasy through and through, treating Raju and Bheem as superheroes who can land incredible stunts that defy space and time and endure the grandest of fight scenes featuring everything from collapsing towers and CGI tigers and wolves.

But what makes the ridiculousness of the movie work is the sincerity of the filmmaking behind the camera and the two leads in front of it. While they’re obviously having a ton of fun with the action scenes, musical numbers and comedy, their hearts give the dramatic scenes the attention they deserve. Whether laughing, crying or cheering, every moment is earned.

The film’s title of “RRR” is a cheeky two-fold reference because the three R’s are universal regardless of what language the film is in. In English, they stand for “Rise, Roar, Revolt” but in other Indian languages the R’s translate to “Rage, War, Blood.” But the real title stands for the R’s in the director’s and stars’ names — Rajamouli, Ram and Rama. Imagine if “Goodfellas” was actually called “SDP” for “Scorsese, De Niro, Pesci.” That’s how big a deal it is.

A three-hour film with subtitles and a mismatch of various genres isn’t going to be for everyone. But there is definitely something in here for everyone. It’s available now on Netflix and worth a try.

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