Koduri Srisaila Sri Rajamouli’s highly anticipated film (“Rise Roar Revolt” in English and “Roudram Ranam Rudhiram” in Telugu, 2022), was released worldwide to much fanfare earlier this year. It builds on the historical drama of his previous film, “Baahubali: The Beginning” (2015) which catapulted the South Indian director to fame and has his signature blend of genres, action, mythology and drama. “Baahubali 2” had actually set a new box office benchmark for Indian cinema and it remains undefeated even after seven years. It remains to be seen if Rajamouli’s new film repeats his previous hat trick.
It’s a breathtaking leap from the distinguished British docudramas of recent times during the era of Britain’s Raj, from “Victoria and Abdul” (2017) to the film “Downton Abbey” (2019) and the TV series . The dark side of British imperialism is only mentioned in even the most liberal British films, such as in “A Passage to India” (1984). But we see a very different picture of the era of the British Empire in Indian cinema, as shown in ‘Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India’ (2001), ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’ (2002) and ‘ Mangal Pandey: The Ascension” (2005).
In “RRR”, the British characters are portrayed as extremely racist, with the exception of Jennifer, much like Elizabeth Russell in “Lagaan”, who falls in love with the native man and takes his side against his own people. Here they are more like Nero or Caligula in their bloodlust, and the wives are no better than their husbands. In one scene, the British Governor’s wife begs for more blood when a revolutionary refuses to kneel down and ask for forgiveness. In a scene reminiscent of gladiators in Roman amphitheatres, she calls out to the policeman who whips the unfortunate and even throws a studded whip at him – “There’s almost no blood, hit him harder!”
Such racism was common during the era of British colonization, when Indians were not welcome in whites-only establishments, but were often murdered in cold blood, as in the infamous Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer in the head of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919. This film takes it a step further by depicting the sheer cruelty and barbarism of the British army in suppressing any rebellion by the natives, as was actually the case after the so- called the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, which Indian historians today call the First War. of India’s independence.
The two desi superheroes are an odd combination of the heroes of the Marvel franchise with Indian mythology thrown into the mix. If you love your blood-soaking and blood-soaking revolutionaries, not to mention ripping muscles, this is the movie for you. The bromance between the two protagonists Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem, played by Ram Charan and NT Rama Rao Jr. respectively, recalls the relationship between Jai and Veeru in “Sholay” (1975), until the song composed by MM Keeravani, “Dosti” (Friendship), a bit like the Yeh dosti hum nahi todenge relationship although here one drives a motorbike while the other rides a horse. The film is based on their opposing personalities, much like in the 1975 blockbuster, one stoic and reserved, the other passionate and emotional.
The female characters are one-dimensional, playing the traditional roles of devoted wives and mothers, not to mention the helpless little girl whose abduction by the British sets the stage to begin. Sita’s character is loyalty and devotion personified, accepting her fiancé’s demise without question. This is a far cry from Rajamouli’s fierce Queen Mother Sivagami in “Baahubali”, who becomes acting queen and regent of her kingdom and is portrayed as a mighty warrior and described as being as multifaceted as the male characters. This is also the case of Princess Devasena as well as Avantika, the rebel warrior of Kuntala. This film, however, fails the test when it comes to its portrayal of women, as it focuses on the macho bravado of its male leads.
“RRR” is based on two iconic rulers of South India in the pre-independence era, who have been well dramatized in Telugu pop culture. Alluri Sitaram Raju was a Kshatriya leader who was given the title “Manyam Veerudu” or the “Hero of the Jungle” for his help to the native tribes against the British colonizers. Komaram Bheem was a Gond tribal leader from the state now known as Telangana. While Bheem had fought the Nizam and the British, Alluri Ram Raju’s rebellion against the colonial rulers of 1922 was against the British Raj for enacting a law that restricted the tribal group’s freedom of movement within their own land. Both revolutionaries paid for their heroism with their lives – Alluri Sitaram Raju in May 1924 by way of a British firing squad, while Komaram Bheem was killed in action in October 1940, fighting the combined forces of the British Empire and the Nizam of Hyderabad.
Rajamouli’s film, however, twists the story by turning their rebellion into a coming-of-age drama with the two revolutionaries playing a dramatic game of cat and mouse with each other. This aspect of the tale first recalls the idealistic ex-criminal Jean Valjean dragged by the indefatigable Inspector Javert from Victor Hugo’s famous novel, “Les Misérables” (1862). However, Rajamouli’s characters are more akin to the heroes of Indian mythology, with Ram playing the role of the mythological warrior King Sri Ram and Bheem playing that of the Pandava prince, Bhimasena.
But NTR Jr’s Bheem is a strange combination of Bhimasena from Mahabharata and Hanuman from Ramayana. He has superhuman strength, as evidenced by his epic battle with a tiger, and the ease with which he launches motorcycles, not to mention Samson-style building destruction. But he also acts as a liaison between Ram and Sita, and even offers sanjeevani as an antidote when Ram is downed by the poison. Ram, on the other hand, seems austere and stoic by comparison, driven by his ambition to rise in the British Armed Forces. But Ram has his own Achilles heel, revealed in flashbacks where we meet his valiant father, played in a big cameo by Ajay Devgan, and his childhood sweetheart, played by a seductive Alia Bhatt.
But the film also has a political bent in its support for a benign version of Hindutva. It pays homage to secularism through the camaraderie between Hindu and Muslim communities, demonstrated in the warm and welcoming Muslim community that is home to the Gond tribes. Initially, the friendship between Ram and Bheem in his false identity of Akhtar recalls the Hindu-Muslim friendships promoted in older films like “Amar, Akbar, Anthony” (1977) where Hindus and Muslims share and even eat in the same thali (plate). But that nod to the secular state diminishes as the film moves more and more towards a gentle Hindutva, from frequent references to Hindu deities to Alluri Ram’s donning of saffron garments in climactic battle scenes. with the British.
Films from the southern states in recent decades had shown more leanings toward more genuine secularism, from Mani Ratnam’s “Bombay” (1995) and “Dil Se” (1997) to Kamal Hassan’s “Hey Ram” (2000). ). This is of course a discussion of more recent films, for if one goes back to an earlier era, as in Shivaji Ganesan’s famous film ‘Parasakti’ (1952), they openly adopt an atheist and anti- -casteism, having been scripted by Mr. Karunanidhi, leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party and future Chief Minister of Tamilnadu. We’ve come a long way from that time to when the character of Alluri Rama morphs into the Hindu warrior god, Ram, dressed in panchagachcham, a traditional Brahmanic outfit with a sacred thread and a tilak on his forehead.
The caste angle also cannot be missed, as Ram is considered the quintessential Kshatriya warrior, while Bheem belongs to an Adivasi tribe, the Gonds. Additionally, the film depicts the natives worshiping at a Ram shrine in the forest, when in reality the Gonds are animists, as are most of the Adivasi tribes. In fact, the Chief Minister of Jharkhand and Head of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Hemant Soren, had clearly stated that the Adivasis cannot be incorporated into the Hindu fold as they are a separate entity and must be recognized as such.
The film’s final scenes are emblematic of the film’s political leanings where we see the famous faces of the freedom movement, from Subash Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh to Chhatrapati Shivaji and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and even other lesser-known revolutionaries such as the tribal chief of Kerala, Pazhassi Raja, as well as Kittur Chennamma of Andhra and VO Chidambaram Pillai of Tamil Nadu. These are important names and the film’s tribute should make them more familiar to the next generation across India, but the most glaring omission is the famous faces of the revolutionary struggle that are missing from this array of images. , such as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and other Congress Party luminaries.
This is all the more surprising as it is widely known in South India that Alluri Ram Raju entered the freedom struggle after being influenced by Gandhi. One might assume that’s because Gandhi was the leader of a nonviolent revolution, while the revolutionaries in this film were more of the “any means necessary” mold of Malcolm X. But if that is the rationale adopted by the director for Gandhi’s omission, why would Sardar Vallabhai Patel’s image be used in the final scene’s painting of revolutionaries?
Another problematic aspect of the film is that the director chooses real historical figures for his film and then turns it into an ahistorical fantasy. Why wouldn’t he use real mythical characters and make it into a fantasy film like the “Baahubali” series did? Anyway, it’s the only Indian movie I can think of that was released not only in cinemas across India, but also in cinemas across the United States during a huge media blitzkrieg. There is no doubt that Rajamouli’s status in Indian cinema plays a part in this, as he has won numerous awards internationally, including the CNN-News award for “Indian of the Year in Entertainment” for 2015. It remains to be seen whether viewers in the diaspora react with such fervor. to the saga as they did in their home country.
Dr. Shoba Sharad Rajgopal is Professor of International Women’s Studies at Westfield State University in Massachusetts, where she teaches in the Department of Ethnic and Gender Studies. His doctorate is in media studies from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Before coming to the United States, she worked as a correspondent for Indian TV stations based in Mumbai, India, and also did in-depth reporting for CNN International. Her journalistic work has focused on the struggles of women and Indigenous peoples in postcolonial nation states. Her work has been widely published, in academic journals as well as feminist journals and magazines such as Ms. in the United States.