RRR is a movie you should be talking about.
This week, I joined many in watching the movie RRR on Netflix. It's a three-hour action musical historical epic. Some may confuse it for being a Bollywood movie, but you would be wrong. (Don't worry, I was wrong about it before I watched it, too.) The brainchild of Indian filmmaker SS Rajamouli, this movie is one of the most astounding feats of cinema I have ever seen. It's a movie I wish I saw in theaters, but that I urge you to watch now that it's readily available all over.
Made on a budget of $72 million, RRR is the most expensive Indian film at the time of its release. It's an original blockbuster that is about to cross $100 million at the worldwide box office. Wikipedia reports it's closer to $150 million. It tells the story of two legendary revolutionaries and their journey away from home before they started fighting for their country in the 1920s. While those revolutionaries were real people, they never met in real life, and the adventure they go on is completely fake.
And still, somehow, everything that happens in this movie is awesome... even though there's no IP. Somehow, this original blockbuster works!
We Need to Talk About RRR and Original Blockbusters
Yes, that final line about IP is sarcasm. We need more original blockbusters. Way more of them. And it's amazing to see a movie from another country leading the way. One of the reasons this movie has been a breakout hit across the world is that it stars two of India's biggest stars. These stars are so big that it's said they haven't been in a movie together because no budget could afford them. That's a fun quip. Much like movies of old, this title relies on those stars to be the driving force behind getting people to sit and watch this piece of cinematic mastery.
It also relies on spectacle. I mentioned at the top that this was the largest budgeted Indian movie ever. Well, the film's director was coming off India's previously largest budgeted movie, and its highest-grossing movie as well. The studio put its full trust in his vision, and he delivered. Here, they lean into that awe-inspiring aesthetic. There's beautiful choreography in the fight scenes. Extended takes where they don't cut away. Fun CGI that accentuates storylines.
There's been a ton of great writing on this subject, but my favorite video essayist Patrick (H) Willems has an incredible breakdown of the film that delves into its cultural influences and importance.
Aside from everything you've read and seen, the main takeaway I have is that audiences just want to see good things. Intellectual property is fine, but you can draw a large audience just by being good.
When it came time to make this movie, Rajamouli said he came up with the idea by just playing around with an idea of "what if."
He told the Indian Express in 2019, "When I read about Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem, it was exciting to know that their story is similar. They never met each other. What if they had met? What if they had got inspired by each other? That is what RRR is about. It is completely fictitious. The film is mounted on a very large scale. We had to do a lot of research for it. To know costumes, their dialect, their way of living and that is why it took so much time for us to get this together."
It's hard to imagine an American studio believing in a filmmaker this way. The last example I have of it is Avatar, which came out a long time ago, and which now is getting sequels. And a movie like Avatar found its audience as well, mostly because it was good and visually astounding.
Or maybe even Inception, which relied on stars and a hot director to make an original idea that could dominate the box office.
The point is, we don't get movies like this, and I wish we could go back to it. You could posit that Tenet was an attempt, but it suffered from the pandemic and probably should have been held for two years like RRR was to ensure the most of the box office.
It would be nice to see Hollywood embrace originality again.
We're all waiting for that next epic story.
Let me know what you think in the comments.