Naatu Naatu scene from RRR
"Naatu Naatu" dance sequence for which the film got its Oscar nomination. Image: RRR/DVV Entertainment.
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Movie with the highest opening day earned by an Indian production, now part of the Oscars conversation

The 2022 Indian Telugu-language film, RRR (abbreviation for ‘Rise Roar Revolt’), is a three-hour, larger-than-life production that took South Asian audiences by storm upon its release, and in the year following, has garnered global recognition.

The film recently made history as the first Indian film to be nominated in the ‘Best Original Song’ category at the Academy Awards, a nomination that has been met by fans with both excitement at the recognition and outrage that it didn’t receive more.

Regardless of the film’s many deserved accolades, it is a true joy to watch and a definite must-see.

The film is set in 1920s India, during the rule of the British Raj, and follows two separate storylines that merge into one epic tale. When the British Governor and his wife brutally kidnap a young girl from her tribe and force her into a life of servitude, the tribe’s protector, Bheem, creates an alias and embarks on a mission to free her. When the Governor’s wife is informed that an assailant is pursuing them, she enlists Raju, an Indian Imperial Police officer and secret anti-Raj freedom fighter, to kill him.

Bheem and Raju accidentally meet (under their respective aliases) and become good friends, unaware of their opposing goals. The two must decide how to free their country from the grasp of colonial rulers without betraying one another.

Assigning this film to just one genre is a futile task. Every minute of the three-hour runtime is packed with supercharged action sequences, tear-jerking emotional scenes, and lively musical numbers. Action, drama, romance, fantasy — you’ll get them all and more in RRR.

Recently, RRR has been making movie history as it has received several of the most prestigious Western nominations and awards, a rarity for Indian films despite the country being the largest producer of films in the world. In 2022, it was named one of the ‘Top Films’ by the National Review Board, won two Critic’s Choice Awards, and became the first Asian film to win the Golden Globe for ‘Best Original Song’.

On January 24, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences unveiled the nominees for the 2023 Academy Awards, which included a nod to RRR in the ‘Best Original Song’ category for the musical number, “Naatu Naatu”.

In recent years, the Academy has garnered a reputation for excluding BIPOC filmmakers from the awards and ignoring the achievements of non-American productions. Some fans viewed the nomination as a sign of progress in this regard, but others felt that the film was snubbed in other categories because it deserved recognition for its technical proficiency, special effects, acting, and directing.

The film was ineligible for the ‘Best International Feature Film’ category because India did not choose it as their official entry, however, there was some speculation that the film could’ve earned a ‘Best Picture’ nomination. While it didn’t happen, the speculation has proved RRR is worthy of being considered one of the — if not the — best films of 2022.

The hype surrounding the film demonstrates the quality that South Asian media has to offer, even if it does not adhere to the Western standards that ceremonies like the Oscars typically reward. The types of films that are honoured by the Academy tend to share certain characteristics. Often termed “Oscar-bait,” dramas, period pieces, social-issue films, and biopics have won the most Oscars, while action, fantasy, thrillers, sci-fi, and foreign films are the least awarded movies.

RRR’s strength lies in its grandiose, over-the-top style. Horrifyingly brutal action scenes include Raju single-handedly fighting an entire army, while Bheem wrestles a tiger and unleashes a truckload of animals to battle the British army.

Among the more fantastical scenes are Bheem and Raju jumping off a bridge and through fire to save a young boy, and Bheem throwing a motorcycle as a weapon. These descriptions may sound impractical, and while the film does require some suspension of disbelief, it never feels forced or frustrating. The audacity and outlandishness of this film are precisely the qualities that make it so likable, and viewers can’t help but have fun watching.

The scene that the film has become known for is the musical sequence “Naatu Naatu” (Dance Dance), where the main characters challenge colonialism via the most energetic dance battle you’ll ever see (which includes an interesting sequence involving suspenders).

The film includes other impressive musical numbers, such as “Dosti” (Friends), where the leads fittingly become friends, and “Komuram Bheemudo,” a rousing song that helps Bheem survive a harsh beating.

The film is rife with impressive visual storytelling as the filmmakers make good use of costumes, makeup, set design, colours, and special effects to make it a visually stunning masterpiece.

No matter what the scene demands, director S.S Rajamouli, doesn’t do subtle. He instead opts for extravagant, striking, and brash filmmaking that directly challenges the values of Western film critics and viewers alike, creating a true once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.

Regardless of whether or not the film secures any wins at the 2023 Academy Awards, RRR will undoubtedly remain the best film of the year in my books.