RRR is the Indian Telugu-language epic that took the world by storm in 2022. Directed by S. S. Rajamouli, who co-wrote the film with V. Vijayendra Prasad, RRR film explores fictional versions of two real-life Indian revolutionaries: Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan), and Komaram Bheem (NT Rama Rao).
Rajamouli came across stories about the lives of Rama Raju and Bheem and ‘connected coincidences’ between them, and after imagining what would have happened had they met, he came up with the epic story of RRR (Rise, Roar, Revolt).
With its epic action sequences, catchy ‘Tollywood’ (that’s Telugu-language Bollywood, which itself is a portmanteau of Bombay and Hollywood) tunes, and fascinating core friendship between its heroes, RRR was a massive global success. As we reported back in March of last year, its first weekend in Australian cinemas saw it reaching number-two at the box office, and garnering $1.8m from 209 screens.
Once out of cinemas it was straight to Netflix, where it stayed on the global Top 10 list of most watched non-English films for 15 weeks, making it the longest-ever trending Indian film on the list. The total viewership of RRR from this time was over 73 million hours.
Here, we breakdown three key scenes that show us exactly why RRR is unforgettable.
The bridge rescue, or: the most epic meet-cute ever
Bheem and Raju, two radical Indian figures fighting battles both inner and outer, meet for the first time in a daring rescue of a little boy trapped in an explosive oil fire on a river.
A train has crashed and gone off the rails on the bridge they are both standing under, putting many lives at risk and setting the river aflame.
Communicating only with meaningful looks, the two heroes coordinate a Tarzan-like swing’n’grab: using a single rope, a flag, a horse and a motorbike, they gather enough momentum to leap off the train bridge, grab the boy, and shake hands in the most homoerotically-charged way possible. All while of course avoiding the flames.
Queue the main title sequence! Phew. Has there ever been a more memorable way to introduce a film?? I think not.
Here’s how it was done.
Using a specialised workshop in Virginia, USA, VFX company Surpreeze made eight miniature model oil-train cars, all made of metal in order to withstand the (real!) flames that would be added to them. These were then shipped to Hyderabad, India – where principal photography of the bridge scene took place.
With outdoor blue screens, a special pool and a rigged train miniature, the scene came together. The little boy whom Bheem and Raju rescue was placed on a fully wired basket that’s timed to tip over when the train car (already aflame in pyrotechnics) hits the water.
Meanwhile, the top of the bridge was constructed in another studio so that footage of Bheem and Raju running across it could be captured. That same bridge construction was used to film Bheem and Raju riding on motorbikes and horseback, respectively – except the motorbike was real (though stationary) while the horse was just a saddle on a crane rig.
The final element of the great rescue – where Bheem and Raju swing from a rope tied across the bridge – is of course done with wires and a massive blue screen set up that allows for capture of extra-wide shots of them epically swaying in the breeze.
The bridge and river is based on a real location in Rajahmundry, India, which the VFX team filmed drone footage of and then super-imposed onto the blue screen studio footage.
For a visual breakdown, check out this video from the VFX team Surpreeze:
Dancing the Naatu Naatu
If there’s only one thing people remember from RRR in ten years’ time, it’ll be the Naatu Naatu song and dance number. The tune alone is an absolute banger (there’s a reason it’s nominated for Best Song at the Oscars!), appearing in many a ‘Spotify Wrapped’ for 2022 – but the choreography is something else.
When Bheem and Raju attend a British party, they are humiliated for not properly engaging in the stuffy customs and dances. But the tables turn when Raju fires up the band in Indian style, and the two heroes dance the Englishmen into the dust.
WARNING: watch this scene at risk of having the best damn song stuck in your head for weeks. Do not attempt the choreography in small spaces.
Between a pandemic and a war, it’s something of a miracle that this scene even exists. After COVID-19 shut down production in India, S.S Rajamouli had to quickly secure another country with ‘British-India’ style buildings to film the Naatu Naatu scene in. The solution came, unexpectedly, in the form of Ukraine’s Mariinsky Palace (in Kyiv).
The palace, which is actually the official residence of President Volodymyr Zelensky, stood in as the exterior of the mansion where the party is held. Tonnes of dirt was brought in to dress the place down and ensure the dancers could kick up clouds of dust during the festivities. Of course, all of this was done in 2021, just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Any further delays to the shoot and it would have been impossible to film.
The fast-paced choreography is the cherry on top of this amazing sequence, spawning many imitators after going viral on TikTok. The man behind the dance is Prem Rakshith, who used the common Bollywood technique of creating a ‘hook step’ to make the Naatu Naatu memorable.
Just like in a song, the hook step is the part that draws you in and stays in your mind. The ‘hook’ of Naatu Naatu is of course the suspender-grabbing, leg-stomping shuffle where Bheem and Raju mirror each other and dance right out at the movie audience, inviting viewers into the revelry.
The shoot of this mere five minute scene took several full days, with all dancers rehearsing their steps for three hours a night. Exhausting, but worth it!
The animal ambush/tigers eat the British Raj
In one of the film’s many climactic scenes, Bheem and his freedom fighters orchestrate an infiltration of the British Raj headquarters by posing as delivery drivers. But instead of tea and biscuits, they’re delivering a world of pain.
Once their innocuous truck is inside the walls, a tarp is lifted to reveal Bheem and about 25 wild animals, all hungry for blood. They leap out all at once, in slow motion of course, which instantly causes chaos and some of the most satisfying violence ever put to screen.
It’s satisfying for a few, simple reasons. First, it’s a direct visual metaphor for how the British’s classification of India’s land as ‘just jungle’, and their people as ‘animalistic’ can be turned against them and reclaimed by India. Secondly, it’s got a tiger biting a dude’s head off. And that just rocks.
Obviously, none of these animals are real. That would be an ethical nightmare. Instead, the crew used remote-controlled cars equipped with rudimentary animal figures to zip around and provide markers for the CG artists that would later create convincing-looking beasts. The cars also provided eyelines for the many actors involved in the scene – so instead of the usual tennis-balls-on-sticks, they had somewhat more evocative placeholders to react to.
Like the bridge scene, this massive set was erected at Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad, where LED strip lights were also used as stand-ins for fast-moving cheetah and deer. The lights were able to move much faster than the robotic cars and thus provided better reaction times from actors and quicker queues for the CG artists.
As for Raju and Bheem’s first fight/violent breakup, we have Hollywood action director/stunt coordinator Nick Powell to thank for choreographing their moves. It’s all at once an incredible spectacle and so heartbreaking – I just hate seeing my boys fight!
RRR is available to stream (in Hindi, with English subtitles) on Netflix.