The “RRR” isn’t a rolling wave of Spanish r’s or a specific person’s initials. The three R’s stand for three people: Rajamouli, Ram Charan and Rama Rao according to one source. That’s the director and the two leads. That sounds might sound like an egotistical bromance brewing yet “RRR” is a rollicking good time where you can release all that repressed anger you have toward White men (and women) because this features over-the-top villainy of White upper class Brits and military men. This is a fun film but there are some definite problems with moments of sloppy scripting.
What’s good about the film is it spotlights two real-life Asian Indian revolutionaries: Alluri Sitarama Raju (Charan) and Komaram Bheem (Rama Rao). While there’s not proof that these two met, the script written by Rajamouli and V. Vijayendra Prasad makes this a saga of their bromance and the early days of their rebellion. Other sources note the meaning of the three R’s is “Roudram Ranam Rudhiram” or “Rise Roar Revolt.”
According to the Press Information Bureau of the Government of India, Raju was awe-inspiring and continues to inspire Telugus even though his heroics were short-lived. He lead guerrilla warfare between August 1922 to May 1924. Born on 4 July 1897, he was executed by British forces 7 May 1924 and is popularly known as “Manyam Veerdu (“Hero of the Forest”). Last year (2022), on the 125th anniversary of his birth, a 15-ton bronze statue was unveiled in a Bhimavaram municipal park.
The Telugu are the largest of the four major Dravidian ethnolinguistic groups and the speakers are native to states Andhra Pradesh (southeastern coastal region of India), Telangana (south-central stretch of the Indian peninsula on the high Deccan Plateau) and the Yanam district of Puducherry (which is one of four districts of former French India).
Komaram Bheem (1900/1901 to 27 October 1940) was a leader of the Gond tribes in the Hyderabad State of British India. According to Britannica, Hyderabad came under British protection in 1798 under the Indian prince Nizam ʿĀlī Khan. “The nizams of Hyderabad constituted a Muslim dynasty that ruled over a predominantly Hindu population.” Britannica lists neither Komaram Bheem nor Alluri Sitarama Raju.
The story of this feature film has been set in the backdrop of pre-independent India, and is purely fictional. The characters portrayed in this movie, the geographical areas depicted, the incidents shown, costumes, dances, linguistic dialects and cultural attributes are fictional. This film, apart from showcasing the culture and geography of India, doesn’t imitate or imply any person whether living or dead, doesn’t indicate any race, caste, creed or tribe. Any resemblance whatsoever is purely coincidental and the producer, the director or the technicians of the movie have no intention whatsoever of hurting anyone’s sentiments or disrespecting any traditions or maligning the beliefs of any individual or group.
No animals or birds were harmed during the making of the film. Horses, oxen, birds, tigers, wolves, bears, leopards, deer, fish, and snake shown in the movie are all computer-generated.
A young girl sings a song as she paints a bird on a White woman’s hand while the natives of the Gond–both men and women, squat before the White woman and the pile of a dozen dead deer trophies has another added to the pile. Pleased by the artistic rendering, the woman, Catherine Buxton (Alison Doody) exclaims, “A good day of hunting, my deer.” She then asks her husband, “I want to have this little package for my mantelpiece.” The little package is the young girl, Maili (Twinkle Sharma). Believing the coins tossed to her are in payment for the mendhi (temporary skin decoration) and Maili’s song, the mother Loki (Ahmareen Anjum) becomes distressed when it becomes apparent, Governor Scott Buxton (Ray Stevenson) and his wife are taking the girl. Loki is bludgeoned when she begs for her daughter back and Bheem disguises himself as a Muslim man named Akhtar as he goes to Delhi to bring Maili back.
During his mission Bheem/Akhtar meets Raju while saving a boy from a train wreck in a fantastical sequence. Raju has met the niece of the Scotts’, Jenny and begins an awkward courtship because Bheem/Akhtar doesn’t speak English and Jenny only speaks English. Bheem/Akhtar through Jenny gets invited to the governor’s residence for a fancy party. There he locates Maili and has time for a big dance off which ends with him defeating a racist military man Jake (Eduard Buhac) and solidifying his friendship with Raju.
Determined to rescue Maili, Bheem/Akhtar crashes a special event held in honor of the governor with more animals than an animal cracker cookie box in what seems to be a magical set of cages with questionable cage-mates.
What Bheem/Akhtar doesn’t know is Raju is pretending to be loyal to the governor as a member of the Indian Imperial Police in order to in order to gain access to weapons for his pro-nationalistic rebellion. Under his cover, Raju’s forced to allow a public flogging of Bheem but since this isn’t how Bheem dies, you know something very convoluted will happen in this three hours and five minutes. At this point you’ll probably wonder, just who carries their own whip?
I’m imagining that the three Rs, got together and thought of what would sound or seem cool without much regard for history or culture or carnivores clashing with herbivores.
Particularly delicious is the dance scene which sets up a particularly nasty confrontation between a White soldier and our two heroes. It both solidifies the attraction between the sympathetic Jenny as well as the bromance between Bheem and Raju. It is problematic because the dances the British officer Jake (Eduard Buhac) mentions do not make any sense or are anachronistic and the script seems to cast all Europeans as essentially the same.
- The Charleston was thought to have originated in the 1923 Broadway musical “Runnin’ Wild.” So it would be unlikely that the Charleston would already be well known in India. According to the National Archives, “In 1926, the Charleston was actually banned by London’s Piccadilly Hotel, followed by other venues.”
- The Argentine tango “became a phenomenon” in Paris, London, Berlin, New York and Finland by 1913. Rudolph Valentino danced the tango in the 1921 film “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” To dance the tango, women had to wear a certain style of dress and you won’t really see many women in the dance scene in a 1920-style tango dress.
- Flamenco is a Spanish dance “commonly associated with the Andalusian Roma (Gypsies) of southern Spain” according to Britannica. It is not considered a social dance.
- Salsa is, according to Britannica, a “hybrid musical form based on Afro-Cuban music but incorporating elements from other Latin American styles” that “developed largely in New York City in the 1940s and ’50s though it was not labeled salsa until the 1960s.”
The British government was concerned about “The Invasion of Alien Musicians” and “the British Association of Teachers of Ballroom Dancing and the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing tried to control dances and standardize steps for more ‘respectable’ dances such as the Foxtrot, Quickstep and Waltz.”
The officer should have named one of those three dances and perhaps included the tango for a more risqué choice. Just as the women’s dresses weren’t suited for tango, the dresses were also not suited for the Charleston or salsa.
The constant friction between the Spanish and Latin culture contrasting the Anglo or Northern European culture and its attendant prejudices are totally lost in “RRR.”
The song for this dance sequence, “Naatu, Naatu,” one a Golden Globe.
The Magical Lorry of Wild Animals
There are animals you probably shouldn’t cage together if you want them to arrive alive, but that small piece of animal management doesn’t bother the brotherhood of Rs. Indeed, the deer seem to be fine in cages with the tigers, leopards, wolves and bears. The CGI movement isn’t quite convincing and the animals stream out of the iron-barred cages on that lorry like a zoo emerging out of a magicians extravagant trick boxes.
In this case, less would have been better. A few tigers or bears would have caused enough chaos. Despite all these problems and the sometimes corny acting, there are reasons to watch “RRR.” If your visual universe needs a yin to balance the yang of cinematic stereotypes, the “RRR” is a fun though long solution, particularly in light of the persistence of Gunga Din in English language cultures.
Gunga Din Dilemma
Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Gunga Din” seems to resonate with so many people. In 1939, it was an RKO adventure film starring Cary Grant. In 1961, the Rat Pack made their version set in the West, “Sergeants 3,” with the Gunga Din role going to Sammy Davis Jr. In 1966, Jim Croce set the words to music, “The Ballad of Gunga Din,” for his 1966 album “Facets.” The 1984 “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” supposedly used the 1939 film as a source. In 2015, The Libertines released a song, “Gunga Din” in their album, ” Anthems for Doomed Youth.”
Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay in British India in 1865 (30 December) and left for England for his education in 1871. He was in England (Portsmouth) for six years before returning in 1882, returned to India to work at local newspapers in British India until 1889. He wrote “Gunga Din” in 1890.
Kipling was born after the British victory in the Indian Rebellin of 1857 and the beginning of the British Raj in 1858 (to 1947). He returned after the 1875 Deccan Riots and left before the 1891 Anglo-Manipur War which ended with a British victory. Kipling was in India during the time when the British regulated a British system of commercialized sex over concern for the health of the British troops.
The kidnapping of a girl as a servant for a British governor’s wife wasn’t the worse thing that could happen to women and did.
To understand the context in terms of US history, 1865 is the year that the American Civil War ended (12 April 1861 to 9 April 1865) and 1882 is the year of the US Chinese Exclusion Act.
The 1939 film “Gunga Din,” is set in the Northwest Frontier of India in about 1880. The NWFP was established in 1901. It is now a region of Pakistan but became a part of British India after the Second Sikh War (1849-1849). The tribesman of this region continued to fight British-Indian forces between 1849 to 1947. The film was banned in Japan and parts of India.
- Colonial India and the Making of Empire Cinema: Image, Ideology and Identity
- History of the Bhistis
It is likely that Kipling doesn’t reveal the exact battle that this bhisti called Gunga Din is involved in, but it predated the 1890s.While his 1899 poem, “The White Man’s Burden,” which addressed the US involvement in the Philippines during the Philippine-American War (1899-1902), has fallen out of favor, “Gunga Din” has not and neither have depictions of servile people of Asian descent.
There is, in the UK, recognition that the term “Gunga Din” can be used as a racial slur.
- Emma Watson’s alma mater the Dragon School drops name of Gunga Din boarding house (3 September 2020)
- Gunga Din House renaming sparks row among Dragon School’s alumni
The “RRR” serves as a radical reply to the image of Gunga Din, as a minority figure, much abused, both physically and mentally, who still remains fawningly obedient or subservient to White people, particularly Anglo-Saxon or WASP. In addition, it calls for a reevaluation of the romantic and even nostalgic view of the British Raj as portrayed in the 2017 “Victoria & Abdul,” the 1984 “A Passage to India” and the 2017 “The Viceroy’s House.” And the film and its heroic rendering of Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem asks us to take a critical look at the kind of notable people listed in English reference materials like Britannica.com. There was resistance in India against the British Raj prior to Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948).
As much as I enjoy “Downton Abbey” as a TV series and movies, I laughed with glee at the dastardly Buxtons and the snarky Jake as karma caught up with them. This isn’t a perfect film, but it certainly has a joyous fun with almost cartoony violence.
The New Yorker called “RRR” a “political screed” and there were voices raised in protest in the UK.
- The Netflix Hit “RRR” Is a Political Screed, an Action Bonanza, and an Exhilarating Musical: The title stands for “Rise Roar Revolt,” and the film turns Indian history into delirious legend.
Of the Netflix film, historian Robert Tombs wrote:
But the worst result will be in India. RRR panders to the reactionary and violent Hindu nationalism that is coming to dominate Indian culture and politics, fanned by the Modi government. Those who suffer from this are not the British, but Indian minorities, above all Muslim but Christian too, and indeed any liberals who stand up against extremism, persecution and bigotry. In reality, RRR does not record the nastiness of 1920s British rule, but it does reflect the growing nastiness of today’s India. Netflix should be ashamed for promoting it.
Yet the historian Robert Tombs writing for The Spectator does have a good point. There was a recent documentary about a journalist in India that looks at the growing problem of nationalism.
The “RRR” was released 25 March 2022. It is the third Indian film and the first Telugu film to receive nominations for Golden Globes (Best Non-English Language Film and Best Original Song). It won for Best Original Song.