If you’re over the age of, say, 40, you will surely remember the 1975 cult phenomenon The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Weekend after weekend, year after year, decade after decade, audiences turned up at theaters — often dressed in corsets, fishnets, and other costumes — to shriek out lines ahead of the characters and sing along with the songs. Another is Tommy Wiseau’s Classically awful movie The Room, in which audience members will throw spoons, play catch and interact with the wildly shot movie. There are many classics that have been hailed as masterpieces over time, but there are plenty of movies that win a very specific audience over and are so brilliant that they gain a following of fans that just can’t get enough. Eventually, these gain the title of a ‘Cult Classic.’ The term “cult film” more commonly known as “cult classic” is used to describe a movie that has generated a significant and highly dedicated fan base over time. These are the cool misfits, while regular ‘classics’ are the popular kids.
But sometimes, a movie comes around that does both; this movie is RRR. A Tollywood-made Indian Film Set in and around Delhi in 1920, RRR pointedly lacks historical context so that Director Rajamouli and his team can transform a straight-forward rescue mission into a rallying cry for reunification and also cathartic violence. Bheem, the avenging “shepherd” of the Adivasian Gond tribe, visits Delhi to track down Malli (Twinkle Sharma), an innocent pre-teen who’s kidnapped from her Gondian mother by the cartoonishly evil British Governor Scott (Ray Stevenson) and his sadistic wife Cathy (Alison Doody).Raju, a peerless Colonial police officer, befriends Bheem without realizing that they’re at cross purposes: Bheem wants to break into Scott’s fortress-like quarters to rescue Maali while Raju wants to catch the unknown “tribal” that Scott’s lackey Edward (Edward Sonnenblick) fears might be lurking about. Raju and Bheem immediately bond after they save an unrelated child from being crushed by a runaway train, as clear a sign as any of Rajamouli’s love for Cecil B. DeMille-style melodrama. (“Ben Hur” is an acknowledged influence for Rajamouli, as are the action/period dramas of Mel Gibson).
Made by box-office titan S.S. Rajamouli, RRR induces such unabashed giddiness in its audience that Hollywood is witnessing a push to get it nominated for the Oscars. Forget a Best International Feature Film win, folks are talking about Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. And having seen RRR three times myself, I’m part of the bandwagon.
RRR — the title stands for Rise Roar Revolt — is populist filmmaking. Its emotions are simple despite being subtitled, and its anti-colonial politics broad. Rajamouli makes the British rulers of India look even worse than they actually were, and they were mighty bad. But his mega-star lead actors play their roles with such ardent conviction that we don’t merely believe in Ram and Bheem’s friendship, we’re moved by it. Rajamouli unfolds the many twists and turns of their story with such confidently rampaging energy that, by comparison, most Hollywood blockbusters feel anemic. You can currently see RRR on Netflix, and it’s a good enough movie that you’ll enjoy it. But if you can — and I’d urge local theaters to bring it back (petition your local theater to do so!) — you should see it on a big screen. For two reasons. First, Rajamouli is in love with the sheer bigness that makes movies so much grander than TV. Bursting with fights, rescues, wild animals, surging crowds, sadistic monsters, larger-than-life showdowns, and mythic transformations, RRR is not a movie that leaves you asking for more.