Indian director Rajamouli achieves worldwide success with his new film RRR | Cinema News
New Delhi, India – “I only know big emotions,” says SS Rajamouli, currently India’s most commercially successful director.
Rajamouli, who makes films in Telugu, a language spoken in the southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, talks about his latest blockbuster hit RRR – India’s second most expensive film and the third in world. But he could also talk about his predominant emotion right now: overwhelming joy.
Rajamouli is delighted that overseas audiences, as well as Indians at home and abroad, also “liked” his film – and that it wasn’t a “patronizing sort of love”.
“You know, sometimes when you’re a larger audience and a little movie is trying to give it a try, you’ll be like, ‘These guys did a good effort. It’s not like that… It’s like, ‘Wow, guys… There’s something here that’s really, really captivating.’ I didn’t expect this,” Rajamouli told Al Jazeera in a Zoom call.
Made on a budget of $72 million, RRR (Rise, Roar, Revolt) was released on March 25 in 21 countries. A three-hour, seven-minute action-adventure about India’s struggle against British colonialism set in the 1920s, it debuted at number three at the US box office and number two at the UK box office. and Australian. In four weeks, it has already cost $141 million worldwide.
Some critics considered 48-year-old Rajamouli a pioneer of Telugu cinema, who challenged the traditional dominance of Bollywood in India and abroad.
“Rajamouli has an impeccable track record. Every one of his films has worked… It wouldn’t be wrong to say he’s the greatest [Indian film director] ever,” Komal Nahta, an Indian film trade analyst, told Al Jazeera.
Surfing the Rajamouli wave
Since beginning his film career in 2001, Rajamouli has made 12 films – all box office hits. All were originally shot in Teluga, with some being dubbed into other Indian languages.
His creative ambitions and the budgets of his films have grown over time. Simultaneously, the audience for South Indian films has increased.
India speaks 121 languages and makes films in about 24 of them, including Bollywood films in Hindi. Its film industry, valued at around $2.3 billion, is also the largest film producer in the world.
In 2020-21, Bollywood box office receipts were $200 million, while Telugu films collected $215 million.
Yet Bollywood is not only synonymous with Indian cinema, but receives disproportionate attention and financial support, while the rest is bludgeoned under the derisory label of ‘regional cinema’.
Rajamouli challenged this trend; notably from his 2012 film, Eega (The Fly), a fantasy film in which the hero is killed, reincarnated as a fly, and goes on a mission to avenge his murder, then with even more success Baahubali (One With Strong Arms ), a two-part action-fantasy swordsman released in 2015 and 2017.
Eega was critically acclaimed and a hit on satellite television with Bollywood-loving Indian Hindi-speaking audiences, while the two-parter Baahubali, made on a budget of $59 million, raised 314 million at the worldwide box office.
The second installment in the Baahubali franchise, Baahubali: The Conclusion, released in 2017, remains the second most successful Indian film at the global box office. It is also the highest-grossing and most-watched Indian film of all time. It increased the box office for Telugu films in India fivefold, while the US market for Telugu films grew from around $1-2 million to $20 million.
This propelled Rajamouli to India’s most expensive director, with around $13 million to direct a film.
Films by other directors in Telugu and Kannada, another South Indian language, rode the Rajamouli wave; their ambitions and budgets have increased, as have their profits and markets.
Pushpa: The Rise, the first of a two-part Telugu action drama about the rise of a laborer in the red sandalwood/sander smuggling syndicate, released on 17 December 2021, was the second most great success of India in 2020-2021.
KGF: Chapter 2, the second of a two-part film about an assassin and the gold mafia, released worldwide on April 14, is the first Kannada film to raise $5 million in the United States in five days. Produced with a budget of 13 million dollars, its worldwide box office receipts in 15 days amounted to 125 million dollars.
Meanwhile, many big Bollywood movies have failed recently.
Bollywood’s 83, a film about the Indian cricket team’s historic victory at the 1983 World Cup, was made for $35 million but barely managed to recoup $25 million. Bell Bottom, a hijacking drama based on a real event, released in August last year, lost $15 million, despite featuring Akshay Kumar, one of Bollywood’s highest-paid actors .
“I don’t want to turn it into a me versus Bollywood kind of thing,” Rajamouli said when asked about the divergent fortunes of his films compared to recent Bollywood productions. He attributed his success to his work ethic and “continuity” and thinking big, growing, learning from mistakes and building on successes.
“It’s not because I have a special ability to tell stories, certainly not,” he said.
Shobu Yarlagadda, part of the duo that produced the Baahubali franchise, told Al Jazeera that Bollywood isn’t scoring big at the box office because it has become more urban-centric and “moved away from the ‘heroism, raw emotions and other elements that make up marketing’. movie theater”.
“[Telugu cinema] always does it very well.
RRR tells a fictional epic of two real Indian revolutionaries who fought against the British Raj. The two main characters of the film are played by two of the best actors in Telugu cinema – Ram Charan and Jr NTR. But the film also features a huge cast of British, Irish and American actors, and to further expand the market for his films, Rajamouli cast two big Bollywood stars for the first time – Alia Bhatt and Ajay Devgn.
The stories Rajamouli likes to tell are inspired by his screenwriter father – who wrote nine of his 12 films – and the hugely popular Indian comic books, Amar Chitra Katha (Immortal Illustrated Story), which he grew up reading.
Created in the late 60s and 70s, these comics told moralizing, mythological and inspirational stories about Indian gods, gurus, kings and queens. Drawn primarily from the two Hindu epics – Mahabharata and Ramayana – men fought honorable battles while devout, voluptuous women in skimpy blouses suffered humiliation. Evil was often portrayed as bearded, mercenary, and Mughal.
But for Rajamouli, it was a world where “when the hero walks, the ground splits open and the sky ignites”. This “grand scheme of things,” he says, fired his imagination. “And when I started telling stories, I didn’t want them to be any different.”
RRR features several elaborate battle scenes and an energetic 4.5-minute song and dance sequence shot in front of the Mariinskyi Palace, the official residence of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, with approximately three-quarters of the film consisting of visual effects.
Bhatt, one of Bollywood’s top actresses, is the female lead in the film. His presence is fleeting, and some critics said his role felt like an afterthought in a high-octane bromance about two patriotic men driven by love, honor and revenge.
Rajamouli has also faced criticism that the patriotism in his films often borders on chauvinism and that his films are male-centric, even sexist.
Rajamouli rejects both claims, saying his focus when writing and directing a film is to tell a story and convey his emotions, not about sex.
“In RRR, I didn’t talk about patriotism. I spoke of friendship. And if someone [says] it’s an over-the-top patriotic movie, I can only smile.