'RRR' review: S.S. Rajamouli's Indian epic bromance is better on the big screen The epic action-picture bromance makes the case for returning to theaters — it reminds us that movies are always more thrilling when they're part of a collective experience.


Movie Reviews

If you haven't been back to the movies yet, Indian epic 'RRR' is the reason to go

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This is FRESH AIR. "RRR" is an epic action movie from India that opened in the U.S. in March and then moved on to Netflix. Over the months since the film ended its first run, it's become a phenomenon with special theatrical screenings filled with legions of fans who bring friends to see it, who in turn tell their friends to see it. Our critic-at-large John Powers says "RRR" isn't just enormously enjoyable. It offers the primal pleasures of moviegoing.

JOHN POWERS, BYLINE: 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. I've never seen anything like it until now. A few nights ago, I went to a packed screening of "RRR," an epic action bromance from India, that had 900 people, some of whom had already seen it 10 times, whooping and clapping and dancing from the opening credits. 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 Best Foreign Language film. Folks are talking best picture, best director, best actor. And having seen "RRR" twice myself, I'm part of the bandwagon.

Set during the British Raj in the 1920s, the movie tells the story of two heroes with side-of-beef physiques and supercharged abilities. The tightly wound Ram works for the British as a crack military officer who we see quash a mass Indian uprising single-handed. His tiger-hunting counterpart, Bheem, is a tribal villager who's come in disguise to Delhi to reclaim a young girl from his village who's been capriciously snatched by the evil wife of the evil British governor. Ram and Bheem meet heroically while working in tandem to save a child from a train crashing into a river. Kindred in their bravery, they instantly became fast friends, but they don't know one important thing. While Bheem secretly opposes the governor, Ram is secretly working for him. They're bound for a head-on collision.

"RRR" - the title stands for "Rise, Roar, Revolt" - is populist filmmaking. Its emotions are simple, its anti-colonial politics broad. Rajamouli makes the British rulers of India even worse than they actually were, and they were mighty bad. But his megastar 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 constantly rampaging energy that, by comparison, most Hollywood blockbusters feel anemic.

I'm normally bored by action sequences, but from the opening riot to the assault on the governor's mansion to the big prison escape during which Ram rides atop Bheem's shoulders with guns a-blazing, "RRR" contains more exciting action scenes than all the Marvel movies put together. Indeed, there's a slow-motion shot right before the intermission that's one of the most jaw-dropping moments in the history of cinema. Just as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "The Matrix" offered American viewers a new vision of action, so "RRR" possesses a delirious inventiveness and originality that makes the audience go bananas. And I haven't even mentioned the marvelous "Naatu Naatu" song-and-dance sequence that recalls the dance-off between the Jets and the Sharks in "West Side Story" but is vastly more alive.

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 - 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. Indeed, in these days, when the box office is way down, movie chains are wobbling, and experts wonder whether the movies will even survive. "RRR" makes the case for returning to theaters. It reminds us that movies are always more thrilling when they're part of a collective experience, when you can share the excitement with the people around you. That excitement is electric when you watch "RRR." You may well leave the theater humming the catchy tune "Naatu Naatu."



DAVIES: John Powers reviewed "RRR," available on Netflix and playing in some theaters. On tomorrow's show, we explore the origins and peculiar nature of money with Jacob Goldstein, former co-host of NPR's Planet Money. Goldstein talks about the history of currency, how we came to trust bills printed by the government as legal tender and how we've managed and mismanaged the money supply, most notably in the Great Depression. His book is "Money: The True Story Of A Made-Up Thing." I hope you can join us.


DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Thea Chaloner directed today's show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.


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