Oscar nominations are always — always — a mixed bag. For every happy surprise, like Everything Everywhere All At Once‘s Stephanie Hsu and Aftersun‘s Paul Mescal earning first time nods, there are countless snubs. This year, the Academy ignored the talents of Viola Davis and the rest of her Women King team, the incendiary work of Danielle Deadwyler, and superstar Tom Cruise in the Best Actor category. But the film I’m most irate for this Oscar season is the Tollywood sensation RRR.
Sure, the S. S. Rajamouli film eked out a well-deserved nomination for the Golden Globe-winning “Naatu Naatu,” but an Original Song nom is not enough for this masterpiece. RRR deserved a place on that Best Picture list. RRR‘s maestro S. S. Rajamouli deserved a Best Director nomination. RRR is one of those rare films that seismically upends your appreciation for what cinema can be and I just think it deserves yet more fanfare from the Hollywood elite.
RRR — which stands for “RISE ROAR REVOLT” in its English translation — is a Tollywood film that imagines a deep-rooted friendship between real life historic revolutionaries Komaram Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao Jr.) and A. Rama Raju (Ram Charan) in 1920s Delhi. The almost supernaturally strong Bheem has disguised himself as a Muslim mechanic named “Akhtar” to track a kidnapped child in the city. The similarly superhero-esque Raju is working for the British imperialists in the hopes of earning their trust for a larger con. He goes undercover as a rebel to track Bheem down. The two men unwittingly become best friends when they join forces to save an innocent child from a rail disaster.
From there, the film only continues to crescendo with each new action set piece. CGI animals attack horrific imperialist soldiers at a ball. Bheem and Raju challenge the local sneering racists to an electrifying dance off. A tragic flashback sequence reveals Raju’s true motives. Elsa Schneider from Temple of Doom (Alison Doody) casually reveals a barbed whip from her skirts. Raju and Bheem fight off an entire jail full of British soldiers with an injured Raju balanced on Bheem’s shoulders. Stuff blows up. Good triumphs over evil. Awesomeness ensues.
RRR is more than just a crowd-pleasing epic. Much like fellow 2023 Oscar nominations Everything Everywhere All at Once, Top Gun, and Avatar: The Way of Water, RRR is a movie that expands one’s notions of what an action film can do. RRR doesn’t just make the heart race and the soul sour, it folds two far-flung corners of the world closer together. Never before has the talent of Tollywood been so embraced by Hollywood. And still, I say, it’s not enough.
Watching RRR is a truly transformative experience. You enter the film having one notion of what a movie can be and leave it overwhelmed with joy. I loved many of the movies nominated for Oscars this morning, but none has imprinted itself on my very being the way this raucous ode to rebellion has done. S. S. Rajamouli deserves to be feted in the same breath as peers like Spielberg and Cameron. Hollywood’s casting agents need to do all they can to steal RRR stars N. T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan from India for a spell. And RRR should have had a spot on that list of Best Picture nominees.
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