Steven Spielberg and James Cameron are two filmmakers who have consistently used technology as a tool to expand the horizons of their dreams and aspirations as storytellers. Spielberg practically invented blockbuster films when he found success with Jaws, ushering in a new era in visual effects in movies, while he was at it. Decades later he did it again with Jurassic Park. Cameron teased with the possibilities of CGI in Terminator 2 : Judgement Day, but it was Spielberg who again went full throttle with Jurassic Park. Visual effects were always an integral part of Cameron’s films from Aliens to Abyss to Avatar. His fascination with the technology used in deep sea exploration saw him diving to the depths himself, leading up to the creation of one of his biggest hits, Titanic. He explored new realms of filmmaking with Avatar and is still at it. It’s not a coincidence that it is with Industrial Light and Magic, the visual effects studio run by another stalwart, George Lucas that both Spielberg and Cameron collaborated with throughout the length of their careers, on their most significant works. Technology was always an integral part of their vision as filmmakers and they have always had a compelling story to tell too, that connected with a global audience. Spielberg more often than Cameron, has always told his stories around families and created heroes out of ordinary human beings in his films. It is to this school of filmmaking that SS Rajamouli belongs to, in the Indian context, I’ve always felt. Bahubali may have gained him much deserved attention across the country but it’s Eega where he truly blazed trail as a maverick filmmaker, if you ask me.
Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi was one film that came to my mind few minutes into watching RRR, for some reason. It must be the image of all those turbaned Indians scampering across a dusty landscape. Gandhi incidentally holds the world record for most number of extras in a film and this was the pre-CGI era too. Rajamouli wastes no time here in prepping the viewer for what’s in store for the length of the film and sets the mood and tone with this scene. You may have seen lynching mobs on screens but it has to be a cinematic first where a mob gets lynched and Rajamouli manages to suspends your disbelief, despite the sheer absurdity, to the point that you let go and decide to indulge yourself as a viewer. It’s a bit like cheating on your diet. The cinematography, action choreography and Ram Charan’s performance are perfectly aligned with Rajamouli’s vision and when the pleasure centres of your brain are being constantly bombarded, you have little choice but to give in. The movie is held together by a string of such epic action set pieces, interlaced with some very generic plot-lines and wafer thin characters elevated only by the delicious quirks of Rajamouli’s writing and vision that saves the most cliched of sequences on more occasions than one, in the film. MM Kreem’s music plays a pivotal role in that aspect, throughout the length of the film too. Noteworthy was the shift in the score in the hunt sequence when the tiger succumbs to the drug. Rajamouli knows his music and Kreem knows what exactly Rajamouli wants, it seems.
Rajamouli is here to hit the ball out of the park on every delivery he faces, so to speak. He’s Sehwag, not Dravid. It’s interesting how he sets up and builds his action sequences into a crescendo. Take the bridge scene where the lead duo rescues the kid. Ram Charan’s character picks up the flag and when he swoops down the bridge hanging from the rope, he soaks the flag in the river. NTR Jr then wraps himself around with the very same flag when he swings through the raging fire. That’s the whole basic working principle of any Rajamouli film in a frame, if you ask me, the nuances and the thoughts that go into the creation of these sequences, that sets them apart from your regular commercial mass masala fare. The hunting sequence is another example. The viewers do not realise the significance of those scenes until Rajamouli springs a surprise on them and the Brits, much later. You saw this in Eega , where again you do not realise the actual reason why Samantha’s character is written as a miniature modeller, until the climatic showdown between the fly and the bad guy. The CGI was pretty impressive, by Indian standards though Rajamouli again proves that he doesn’t need CGI or blockbuster action sequences to kick up frenzy, when the movie breaks into the Nach Nach song. The boundless joy and sheer energy that Ram Charan and NTR brings to this song-dance sequence is the reason why movies are shown in theatres. Watching the film on Netflix at home, I truly regretted missing out on the full house theatre experience on this one.
It was refreshing to watch a few bonafide western actors playing foreigners, especially Ray Stevenson, though his character was written like one meant for Bob Christo from any of the 80s and 90s Bollywood movies. But I’m willing to indulge here considering the fact that even Spielberg chose to portray Indians in a rather bad light in his films, in the past. The monkey brain delicacy from Temple of doom found a joke reference in one of the Office episodes, over two decades later. That’s how pop culture works I guess, leaving lasting impressions. Alison Doody who played his wife is an ex Bond-girl and her reaction when the tiger tore up the guard was particularly impressive, perfectly accentuating the horror of the scene. Olivia Morris had a bit more to do than Alia Bhatt and Sriya Saran wouldn’t be complaining considering the screen time Ajay Devgan got, I think. But then again, in a Rajamouli film, when he is at his best, screen time is not exactly a measure of the impression that you leave on the viewers, as an actor. It’s Rajamouli’s intuitive writing again that elevates the scenes with Devgan and Sriya. It’s all about striving to churn something new out of every cliched situation in the script when it comes to mainstream commercial Indian films and you win some, you lose some in the process as a filmmaker. But when it’s Rajamouli, it’s more wins than losses, I think. But it’s also not to say that the film is without flaws, fundamentally. One being the depiction of the two real life historical figures in a setting sold as a historical fantasy, where Rajamouli decided to infuse a hierarchical structure into the dynamics of the relationship between those two characters. The politics in a more contemporary context, of the film, is evident when icons from Sardar Patel to Pazhassi finds a spot in the closing song finale but Gandhiji or Nehru doesn’t. Incidentally the flag that features in the final song and the bridge scene was the Flag of Indian Independence raised by Bhikaji Cama in 1907, at the International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart, Germany. If the argument is that the Rajamouli intended to showcase the armed revolutionaries of the Freedom Struggle, a figure conspicuous by absence is Tipu Sultan. Sardar Patel wouldn’t make the list by that logic either. Revolution is not always about taking up arms and despite his means, Gandhiji was silenced in the most violent of ways. I don’t intend to digress here and it’s not a perfect world either and all things said, RRR is indeed mainstream cinema at it’s best and I have to add though, that I’m relieved that Rajamouli decided against bending palm trees this time around, in the climatic showdown.