Magnum opus has become an everyday word for SS Rajamouli. His Bahubali films have redefined the word in a way not very different from Sankar's Enthiran and 2.0. However, the main difference between these two grand auteurs is that the former relies on very basic and primal human emotions to narrate a story that he mounts on a Himalayan scale. The latter on the other hand uses high concepts which by the virtue of their idea demand a huge scale in order for it to be effective.
After the blockbuster Baahubali: The Conclusion, there was a lot more expectation from Rajamouli, naturally. However, with the pandemic almost closing down the show business, things looked pretty bleak. The new normal of working from home and the perilous resultant reluctance of the audience to go to the cinemas to watch films shook the confidence of filmmakers and theatre owners alike. OTT platforms were mushrooming a dime a dozen with attractive offers which only meant that the audience would rather watch a film in the comfort of their home and a mobile phone rather than spend about a grand to go to the cinemas.
With the south film industry going nowhere further (get it? It's already in the south), the timing of RRR couldn't have been better. Two years ago, as the world was grudgingly trying to get used to being indoors, the motion posters in regular intervals ignited the spark of hope in our hearts. Besides being the much-needed euphoria that they provided with the sheer extravagance that had become a trademark of Rajamouli, the motion posters also kept the urge to watch cinema on the big screen alive. While the mass audience looked forward to the release of the film in the theatres, the cinephiles and the pundits were eager to see how and if it would change the movie-watching experience since OTT and good content on the same were also on the rise.
Rajamouli is more than just a master storyteller. He is also a very clever marketer. With his teasers and motion posters that were released at regular intervals, he kept the audience on their toes. The wonderfully cut teaser had just the right amount of suspense to keep one guessing and the flamboyance to keep the wait painful. The expectations skyrocketed by the time the final trailer and the final release date. By the time the film was available for pre-booking, the tickets sold like hotcakes and the halls were getting filled like bees on a piece of meat! To give you a tiny glimpse of how people thronged the theatres, I watched the movie on a Thursday evening at an IMAX screen in a mall... wait for it... housefull!
Now on to the film itself. This post is largely going to be appreciative of how the film delivers what it promised, "Bringing back the glory of Indian Cinema". The review demands a separate post in itself. Now, I'm not sure if the SSR arrived at this slogan during the post-production (which I'm assuming happened during the lockdown) as the world of cinema came to a grinding halt or he made this film with this audacious idea of bringing back the glory that was slowly fading away. Regardless, he has managed to bring the audience to appreciate the grandeur and the basic emotions that form the undercurrent of any story.
Like I said earlier, Rajamouli has become a master of mounting basic human emotions and reactions like anger, compassion and revenge on a humongous scale. Take for instance the concept of revenge in Eega. I don't think there is any other interval scene that can outdo the mass moment of that film where the bee writes, "I will kill you" on the windscreen. Not even Rajamouli has outdone this brilliant scene. In RRR, he mounts revenge on the backdrop of pre-independence India.
RRR, by far is one of the best screenplays I have seen in recent times. He uses the principle of Chekhov's gun wonderfully. Every prop, background and idiosyncrasy of the character is masterfully woven into the screenplay that has a wonderful payoff. The best part is that none of the set-ups or pay-offs happens in exposition. Each one of these happens visually, complete with the spectacle and pomp, typical of Rajamouli. Take for instance the introduction scene of Bheem. While being an amazing, massy introduction to a character, the payoff of the character establishment happens towards the end of the first half in a way that would make your hair stand!
Then we have the songs. Like Baradwaj Rangan mentioned in one of his reviews, songs can be redundant (at best) and intrusive (at worst) for a film. Indian cinema, despite coming a long way has been struggling to find the sweet spot on keeping a song in the screenplay without affecting its pace. Rajamouli seems to have found the sweet spot in RRR. The biggest brownie point that he has earned is the fact that there is no "item song" in this film. Even Baahubali had one. Not that the song was ill-placed, just that the moral high ground that the film takes, later on, conflicts with the song. The Naatu song is brilliant in its choreography, placement and even emotion. While Komuram Bheemulo is what I think is SSR's response to the famous speech by Mark Antony in Julius Caesar.
Another reason why RRR works is the way how SSR treats each of his scenes like an entire film. There is a clear beginning, middle and end to each scene. There is a very clear emotional arc to the scene and it seamlessly connects to the next scene. Dialogues are used just the right amount and don't get all preachy (freedom struggle related scenes) or too weepy (during the sentimental scenes).
To conclude, RRR has definitely brought back the glory of Indian cinema - and I say this not from the point of view of stories or story-telling. Indian audience has always been a theatre-going audience since the beginning of the craft on this soil. Movie-watching is nothing short of a celebration in our country and irrespective of the quality of the story (the criticism of which bloomed pretty later on), we have always watched it along with a few others in the comfortable, familiar darkness of a cinema hall. RRR has brought back the glory of the cinema halls and the exultant experience of watching a movie in the theatre. This is the glory of Indian cinema that needed revival and SS Rajamouli has done it with his inimitable panache.