Bollywood could do with some of Rajamouli’s secret sauce: Anupama Chopra on RRR - Hindustan Times
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Bollywood could do with some of Rajamouli’s secret sauce: Anupama Chopra on RRR

Apr 08, 2022 04:07 PM IST

There is a ferociousness and flamboyance to the filmmaker’s vision that the Hindi film industry needs more of. He doesn’t rest on past glory; there’s effort in every frame, Chopra says.

In April 2017, just after watching Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, I posted the following tweet: “Stardom is defined as the power to get bums on seats. The response to #Baahubali2 proves that a filmmaker’s imagination is the biggest star.”

NTR Jr and Ram Charan in RRR, a film about a friendship between two freedom fighters in the 1920s. PREMIUM
NTR Jr and Ram Charan in RRR, a film about a friendship between two freedom fighters in the 1920s.

RRR proves my case yet again. Despite the presence of a gallery of A-listers — NTR Jr, Ram Charan, Ajay Devgn, Alia Bhatt — the film is propelled by the ferociousness and flamboyance of director SS Rajamouli’s vision.

This is an artist unafraid of how preposterous and logic-free his plot is. Not only can he imagine a friendship in the 1920s between two freedom fighters, Komaram Bheem and Alluri Sitarama Raju (there is no evidence that they ever met), he can also design an elaborate pre-interval sequence in which Bheem attacks a sadistic British governor’s mansion with tigers and wolves as his accomplices.

Later in the film, Bheem breaks an injured Raju out of prison by carrying him out on his shoulders. The two become an unstoppable fighting unit, mowing down dozens of soldiers. Rajamouli is the maker of masculine myths (RRR’s weakest link is its female characters) and he doesn’t let anything get in the way of his storytelling.

This conviction enables his narrative (even when it borders on the ridiculous) to seduce viewers. Box Office India editor Harminder Sandhu estimates that RRR will probably make between 600 crore and 700 crore (across languages), becoming the second-biggest grosser in India after Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (not adjusting for inflation). Which unequivocally establishes Rajamouli as the country’s most successful director.

Perhaps this will dent Bollywood’s hubris. Sandhu says that Hindi cinema is still number one in terms of total revenues. But in many ways, the other language industries seem to have sprinted ahead of it. Malayalam cinema is consistently crafting riveting dramas that span the gamut from homegrown superhero stories (Minnal Murali) to grim police procedurals (Nayattu); Tamil cinema is alternating between larger-than-life star vehicles (Master) and realistic issue-based cinema (Jai Bhim); and Telugu cinema seems to have perfected the art of the pan-India mass entertainer. Pushpa: The Rise and now RRR prove that dubbed films can be blockbusters.

My hope is that the fierce competition will force Bollywood to up its game. What struck me while watching RRR was the hard work that went into it. Rajamouli didn’t rest on his past glory or his famous actors. In stark contrast with, for instance, Salman Khan’s Radhe and Akshay Kumar’s Bachchhan Paandey, which reek of laziness, here there was effort in every frame.

There isn’t another filmmaker in the country who can match Rajamouli’s staggering imagination, but the work ethic can be emulated. Ten days before RRR’s release, I asked Rajamouli if he was an insecure director. “I can’t say whether I’m insecure or not but the fear is always there with me,” he said. “It has been a constant companion. The confidence and fear oscillate. When I’m working, I am more confident. When I’m not working, I am more fearful.”

That blend is perhaps Rajamouli’s secret sauce. And it’s one worth stealing.

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