ADAM GRAHAM

Explosions, tigers and bromance: 'RRR' is the action epic you must see

Let the three-hour Indian blockbuster into your life, you won't be sorry.

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

It's the craziest movie of the year, an explosive three-hour historical action musical epic about liberation, friendship and patriotism. 

It's also an important piece of world cinema, and an example of how advances in technology have made the world smaller and brought cultures closer together. 

N.T. Rama Rao Jr. in “RRR.”

"RRR" is a joyously exuberant Tollywood film — shorthand for a movie in the Telugu language, not to be confused with Bollywood, which is Hindi, or Kollywood, which is Tamil — about a pair of sworn enemies turned BFFs turned enemies again turned even bestier BFFs who help free India from British colonial rule in the 1920s. After a hugely successful box office run, it is currently streaming at home on Netflix. 

It stars Ram Charan and N. T. Rama Rao Jr. as real life revolutionaries Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem and it features tiger fights, massive detonations, over-the-top action, insane dance sequences, nearly as much sweat and rippling muscles as "Predator" and a guy swinging a motorcycle above his head like a baseball bat.

Picture the action ballet of peak John Woo, cross it with the anything goes anarchy of the "Fast and Furious" movies, add in some choreographed dance numbers that would make TikTok explode and stretch it all out over three hours and you're close to approximating the "RRR" experience, but that still won't prepare you for the sequence where Raju jumps on Bheem's shoulders and together they storm a battlefield like an 9-foot tall warrior and save the day.  

N. T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan in "RRR."

Written and directed by S.S. Rajamouli, "RRR" — those three Rs stand for Rise, Roar and Revolt — was released in North American theaters on March 25, where it opened at No. 3 at the box office, sandwiched between "The Batman" and "Uncharted." It made $9.5 million its opening weekend and is currently the year's 31st highest grossing film, no small feat for an Indian film with no names that are familiar to the vast majority of American moviegoers. (Its $70 million-plus budget also makes it the most expensive Indian movie ever made.) 

In America it currently stands as the second highest grossing Indian film of all time, behind Rajamouli's own "Baahubali 2: The Conclusion," which grossed $20.1 million here back in 2017. (Rajamouli is something of the Indian James Cameron.) At the worldwide box office, "RRR" has grossed more than $150 million, No. 4 on the list of all-time Indian blockbusters, right behind "K.G.F: Chapter 2," which was released in April and has been setting records in its own right. 

"RRR" made its way back to theaters for one night only last week in an event dubbed the "#encoRRRe," which followed its May 22 release on Netflix. (The home viewing experience will get you there, but "RRR" really, really, really deserves to be seen on the big screen, and surely will live on at midnight showings and in revival houses.)

Ram Charan and N. T. Rama Rao Jr. in "RRR."

The motorcycle swinging and the characters' lack of adherence to the laws of gravity should give it away, but "RRR" is clearly a fictitious romp through history, more fantasy than fact. Those concerned about the language barrier or following the story need not worry; plot points are spelled out in hilariously specific songs that detail the characters' motivations and relationships to each other. The British colonialists are evil, the Indian revolutionaries are heroes, every emotion is heightened to 11 and subtlety is not welcome heRRRe. 

Metro Detroit has been a fertile market for Indian film for years; area megaplexes routinely hold several screens for imports such as "Samrat Prithviraj," "Vikram," "Major" and "Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2," all of which are all currently showing locally alongside Hollywood fare such as "Top Gun: Maverick" and "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." 

"RRR's" breakout is significant though, and it's the kind of accessible, crossover success story that brings more eyes to different cultures, styles and voices across the globe. Even its subtext is winning favor: the supercharged bromance at the center of the film has been celebrated by some who see Raju and Bheem as gay superheroes acting out a love affair bubbling just below the surface of all those explosions.

There has been some criticism lobbed at the film, whether for its propping up of Hinduism or its perceived anti-Muslim stance. These criticisms are valid; nothing exists in a vacuum, and when movies reach audiences as large as "RRR" has, its finer points are dissected on a mass scale. 

However it's viewed, "RRR" is well-worth a watch, and the ease and convenience of Netflix gives it a low barrier for entry. A drama in a similar vein might be a more difficult sell, and the subtitle-averse could bristle at the prospect of, you know, all that reading. But action movies play around the globe, and for good reason: the language of explosions doesn't need translation. Like "RRR," it's universal.  

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama