'RRR', the delirious Indian phenomenon that succeeds on Netflix after sweeping the box office
The historical movies are always taken licenses. Characters who were not in that place at the time, invented events to advance the plot, fictitious relationships to add drama... small concessions to make everything fit and make it more digestible for the viewer. Imagine that when watching a historical film one is, before beginning, with a banner that announces that "the characters, the races, the dialects, the clothes, the geographical areas and the incidents are fictitious". Come on, as Rajoy would say in one of his phrases for posterity, "everything is false except for one thing."
This is what happens with RRR, the Indian phenomenon that has arrived on Netflix after sweeping the box office in its country and doing very well in other territories. A title that refers to the words in English rise, roar and revolt or, what is the same, rise, roar and rebel. RRR tells the story of Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheeem, two revolutionaries who rise up against the British colonial government in India in the 1920s. The curious thing is that both characters existed in reality and are considered heroes by the Indian community. What never happened, as far as is known, is that they met or forged between them the friendship (and rivalry) with which the SS Rajamouli film fantasizes.
The film follows all the patterns of Indian cinema that sweeps theaters in their country. It is an impossible historical film full of special effects, action scenes that border on science fiction, saturated photography, slow motion to build an epic out of nothing —even when the protagonist breaks a punching bag while boxing—, thunderous music, love, colors and everything that comes to mind. Even a tiger and a wolf colliding in the jungle or a musical number in which the two protagonists play with their suspenders in a duel of dances until fainting. Anything is possible in RRR, which features one of its protagonists taking on a crowd with just a stick in a scene straight out of World War Z.
RRR is first and foremost a patriotic film. It denounces British colonialism unequivocally, although yes, there is also room for rich, good-hearted English women who fall in love with an Indian. The rest are presented as unscrupulous conquerors. The engine of the film is the purchase of a girl from a tribe who sees her mother killed with a shovel because "it's not worth spending a one-pound bullet" on her. The British torture, harass, and laugh at the Indians, and the Indians prepare to revolt. "Let's teach our children the revolution," they say at one point.
The patriotic zenith arrives in a delirious scene that would make Michael Bay and John Woo wet. The two protagonists will unite to save a boy cornered on an island by the fire of a burning train. Both jump into the river, each on one side of the bridge, holding a rope. Just before, one of them will grab an Indian flag that he will dip in the water and throw it to his partner to use as a shield to go through the flames. The flag as a saving element in the scene that, in addition, gives rise to the friendship of the two protagonists. One of many examples of eye-rubbing scenes to be found on RRR in its three-plus hour run.
The film has become a small phenomenon thanks to its arrival on Netflix, where it has been released worldwide. Word of mouth and social networks have led to talk of a film that must be seen to be believed. The data that the platform offers each week make it clear that it is a success. It is the most watched film not spoken in English since its premiere in recent weeks. In its first seven days it added 18 million hours of viewings, and in its third week it has repeated as the most viewed title with more than 13 million. The film that is in second position barely adds 5 million. On a global level, it is only surpassed by the premiere of Interceptor, an action thriller in English with Elsa Pataki that accumulates 35.6 million hours.
Even in the US it has sneaked into the top ten at its premiere, just as it has done in 54 countries. Of course, it is a complete success in Asia, where it has reached number 1 by far in Bahrain, Bangladesh, India, Imam, Pakistan or Sri Lanka. Also in other countries outside the continent such as Nigeria. In Latin America it is also among the most viewed in countries like Argentina, Venezuela or Bolivia.
The curious thing about the case of RRR is that it has also been a success at the box office. Mainly in India, where it was originally going to be released on July 20, 2020. The pandemic delayed its arrival until March 25, 2022, when it achieved 42 million in its first weekend alone. Its arrival was overwhelming, and on its first day it achieved the best start in the history of theaters in India with 17.5 million, above another film by the same director, The Legend of Baahubali: Part 2. Some analysts point out that, Furthermore, RRR has brought viewers together in an industry where there is rarely a nationwide hit, but rather each region has its own phenomena. Bollywood films are aimed at North Indian audiences, Kollywood films at Tamil audiences, and Tollywood films, where RRR would be framed, at viewers in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. But SS Rajamouli's cinema has proven to be more transversal.
Not only has it been a hit in India, but it has also had notable returns in the US, where in its opening week it hit #3 at the box office with $9.5 million, behind The Lost City and The Batman. Also in Australia it has worked in its passage through movie theaters showing that Tollywood cinema can also be a success.