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The Netflix hit “RRR” is a political screed, an action bonanza and an exhilarating musical

When it comes to film propaganda, bold is better than underhanded. Open advocacy has the virtue of openness and the power of passionate emotions. A film like Top Gun: Maverick hides its messages under the guise of unacceptable realities, while another new high-energy, political action-spectacle, Indian film RRR (which hit theaters in March and is now streaming on Netflix , where it belongs to the top 5), makes his statements clear. Intoxicating and hilarious, it showcases his imaginative artistry.

“RRR” – the title stands for “Rise Roar Revolt” – makes history legendary through heightened visual rhetoric. It is very loosely based on the real-life stories of two early twentieth-century Indian revolutionaries, Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem, who fought oppression by British colonial power. There is no record of them meeting, let alone hooking up. Director SS Rajamouli – who also wrote the screenplay, based on a story by V. Vijayendra Prasad (his father) – draws a magnificent burst of creative energy from the inspiring imagination of their fleeting connection. (The film’s original language is Telugu; the version shown on Netflix is ​​dubbed into Hindi.)

While driving through the Indian countryside, Catherine Buxton (Alison Doody), the overbearing wife of the British colonial governor, buys an Indian girl named Malli (Twinkle Sharma) like one would buy a pet. The governor’s party carts the child away despite protests from her mother Loki (Ahmareen Anjum), who is being mistreated by British guards. Malli is from the Gond tribe who are said to stick together and his so-called shepherd Bheem (NT Rama Rao, Jr.), a fierce warrior, sets out for Delhi to find her, where he disguised himself as a Muslim mechanic named Akhtar. British governor Scott Buxton (Ray Stevenson) is warned by an Indian police officer about the shepherd and his wildness; Buxton orders his officers to find and capture the shepherd. One of his Indian police officers, Raju (Ram Charan), volunteers for the mission and plans to infiltrate the city’s revolutionary Indian circles. In Delhi, two Indian strangers see a boy drowning in a river and join forces to save him. The two men, Raju and “Akhtar”, quickly become friends. Raju doesn’t know that Akhtar is the warrior he’s looking for, and Akhtar doesn’t know that Raju works for the man whose household he wants to raid. The drama of their mysteries and the tortuous path of their ultimate collaboration (no spoilers) involve scenes of moral and emotional horror redeemed in the high purpose of their historical mission.

The similarity in tone to other Indian action films also matches the similarities with Hollywood blockbusters. The drama is built around action, confines itself to character, contains very little dialogue that doesn’t advance the plot, and offers no psychology, story, or social context to enrich the historical setting. It’s a film of abbreviations and omissions, no less relentless than those of American superheroes or superstar vehicles, but Rajamouli is an artist with a distinctive temperament and talent. He lights the halo of the legend in an extended scene that introduces Raju in a prison where Indians are storming the gates to free a prisoner. There, using impossible acrobatics and eruptive martial arts (punctuated by an insanely rotating camera), Raju takes on the entire heaving crowd, playing like a live-action cartoon. The imaginative element is intensified through a sequence of Bheem’s rigorous, self-imposed training that includes a one-handed fight with a wolf and a tiger.

There’s an obvious element of hyperbole that bends the story into the substance and tone of the legend – the effect is like one big story on screen. It’s a film of dizzying, heady exaggeration in which physical action pierces the barrier of the impossible but stops short at the supernatural or superhero. And there’s a dashing graphic sense of composition and an assertive sense of fast-paced action that owes nothing to the general mess with which most Hollywood action scenes are filmed and edited. “RRR” is also full of blood: gushing blood, squirting blood, beaten and pierced and torn bodies. But the combination of sharply defined political intent and compositional artistry lends the horror an air of abstraction that stirs up a sense of outrage or justice without physical disgust or titillation.

The plot has twists and turns, hidden side paths and surprising connections that have the sheen of magic tricks. The story’s omissions and cuts – an odd thing to relate to in a film that runs nearly three hours – add to the atmosphere of wonder and lend a shock of astonishment to a lengthy flashback that drops out mid-film. The drama is rooted in the absolute sadism, the monstrous and indeed genocidal racism of the British, the government terrorism with which Buxton rules, the pathological bloodlust of power exhibited by Catherine, the dehumanizing prejudices of subordinate officers, and the vile politics of hiring native people who do their dirty work. History’s view of colonial despotism includes not only severe economic inequality, but also unrelenting political repression — and a sense of dread that is almost a sense of doom, signaled by the outright ban on Indian firearms and the tumult that ensued resulting if even a single rifle falls into the hands of any of them.

For all its political determination, “RRR” is also a musical, and an electrifying one at that. The film is full of music and characters singing at moments of great political importance; When Raju and Bheem manage to attend a high-level British society gathering, they turn a moment of cultural chauvinism into a spectacular dance-off. The frenetically athletic choreography incorporates gestures of swift sculptural majesty to match the geometric flair of the images they capture. Where the film’s central dance is combative, the fight scenes are dancelike and feature moments of phantasmagorical splendor. One won’t soon forget the vision of a warrior carrying another on his back, while the one above carries two rifles, firing them in opposite directions with deadly accuracy while the bearer smashes through a brick wall trying to escape. Or a runaway motorcycle, stopped with one foot as if it were a soccer ball, caught in midair and hurled with the devastating force of a cannonball. Or a single flaming arrow that ignites the entire landscape, producing Wagnerian images of sublime destruction.

Characterized in the lyrics as “a friendship between an erupting volcano and a raging storm,” the drama of political unity is also a flag-waving spectacle of patriotic pomp. The film’s strong sense of revolutionary virtue and collective purpose gives way to nationalistic pride, danced and sung with uninhibited joy. The final production number illuminates the present-day purposes of this quasi-historical story with militaristic swagger.

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