SS Rajamoulis RRR, a raucous theatrical experience set in 1920s colonial India, began its short but explosive run in American theaters on March 24 and grossed about $15 million in the US – something few Indian films can boast of. Less than two months after its release, the Tollywood musical epic is now streaming. The film lands on Netflix today but is only available dubbed in Hindi (with multiple subtitle language options). If you want to watch it in its original Telugu language, you’ll need a subscription to ZEE5, a relatively new Indian streaming service that’s jumped in to claim one of the year’s most in-demand international releases. (If you want an English dub, you’re out of luck with either service for now.)
RRREveryone was curious about streaming release strategy. Plans for the digital debut changed up to the last minute – with Netflix’s scheduled June 2 release, it was pushed back almost two weeks to yesterday with just hours to go; There were also disagreements with the introduction of ZEE5. When the film leaked online in May, fans wondered how the leak would affect its online release, but when asked for comment, ZEE5 reps simply replied, “……….”
If you’re looking for Indian titles with multiple languages on Netflix or ZEE5, you might see a feed like this one.
Photo: Screenshot: Netflix
Now that it is available, for those who wish to watch RRR in Telugu or dubbed in Tamil, Kannada or Malayalam, a ZEE5 subscription costs $49.99 per year (or $20.99 for three months). Netflix doesn’t offer the film in those languages, making this the latest example of a sometimes confusing release pattern for streaming Indian films — in both the US and India. If expensive licensing deals are made for international distribution, big blockbusters can eventually end up on different platforms in different languages. Rajamouli’s previous films Baahubali: The beginning and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion are available on Netflix, but don’t each appear as a single asset with the option to switch between languages - like the Korean hit series, for example Squid Game – There is a different entry for each film depending on the dub, and they are not always listed throughout the franchise. Netflix has the first Baahubali in Tamil (one of the two spoken languages filmed in) and dubbed in Hindi, Malayalam, English, Spanish and Portuguese, while the second film is only available in Tamil, Hindi and Malayalam – no European language versions. To complicate matters further, none of the films can be streamed in Telugu, their other spoken language.
It’s a headache, but for movies like Baahubali and RRR, the decision is not accidental. The ZEE5 platform, which launched in 2018 and expanded globally (including the US) last year, claims to have more than 40 million users outside of India – many of them belonging to various South Asian diasporas. Commenting on the strategy of treating each dub as its own film, a ZEE5 representative said, “Not only does this help us guide viewers from different regions to the film in their respective languages, but it also gives viewers better recommendations based on their language preferences. “
In fact, films like Rajamoulis appeal to a wide variety of Indian audiences who speak many different languages, so distributors tend to treat them as entirely different markets. For example, ZEE5’s landing page breaks down its choices by language rather than genre, and each of the four versions of RRR appear as separate entries – each aimed at different audiences while retaining the same meaning. Like the streaming rights to every major international film, RRR‘s are subject to complicated contracts and bidding wars. In 2021, long before the film was released, ZEE5 and Netflix each spent exorbitant sums – more than $40 million – to acquire it for streaming once it hit theaters.
Netflix will eventually dub for RRR in English, Korean, Turkish, Portuguese and Spanish, but in the meantime the English subtitled Telugu version on ZEE5 is the closest to the theatrical experience in India. It also helps if you stand up and dance along.