SS Rajamouli’s brand of cinema has always been innately inspired by unsanitised Bharatiya itihaas and Sanatan concepts presented through the maverick director’s larger-than-life vision. While his earlier films skirted around these moot topics without making the declaration, particularly in the face, it is probably in RRR that he ensured that the distinct Hindu language was heard, seen, and felt. In a film that brandishes the anti-colonial narrative with gusto and minces no words on the brutalities India faced in the hands of the British imperialist powers, RRR’s global recognition and accolades not only open up a much-needed dialogue on the perils of European supremacy unleashed in olden times on Bharat but also catapults a thoroughly Indian film to an international platform thereby establishing the fact that when it comes to superior content and originality, talented Indian filmmakers are pretty capable in crafting winners. Rajamouli, by presenting a fictionalised account on two nationalistic revolutionaries in a style that is steeped in India’s cultural ethos, has paved the way with elan.
Here it is also important to note how Rajamouli has clarified categorically that RRR is not a Bollywood product. It is a Telugu film from where he belongs in southern India. This announcement is almost targeted at silencing the voices that might arise from the Hindi film industry, who would probably love to claim ownership of the Ram Charan and NTR Junior starrer witnessing how it is being feted globally. Considering that elitist Bollywood, which thrives on the business (where cinema is made just for monetary returns and not to narrate beautiful and relevant stories or express meaningful art) model of cutting, copying and pasting content, has always pretended that Indian cinema is only and only about Hindi movies (Ajay Devgn and Alia Bhatt played cameo roles in RRR, too) they might just rush in to grab the spotlight in the prestigious shadow of Rajamouli, whose work is being lauded for its originality and uniqueness. Hence, the director’s announcement, made during the media interaction at the Directors Guild of America, is aptly timed.
With Kantara (Kannada) flooring the Indian audience with its spiritual context referring to Bhoota Kola traditions and Unni Mukundan’s Malikkapuram (a Malayalam family drama focusing on Swami Ayappa in Sabarimala) holding its own at the box office in communist Kerala, the resurgence of staunchly Hindu centric films is being helmed in the south. Bollywood’s stronghold in hogging the limelight is surely weakening either for regularly churning out substandard material or for thrashing out anti-Hindu and anti-Indian content for many, many years.
Steeped in Indian Ethos
Rajamouli has been steadily building his filmography that borrows concepts, ideologies and philosophies from not just those Indian epics but also from our ancient Sanatani texts and scriptures. Except for an oddball Sye, the sports action drama where Hindus were painted in a sordid light compared to others, Rajamouli’s art has quite regularly stood out for flaunting the Hindu identity emphatically. If Chatrapathi played on the imagery of the Maratha warrior vanquishing villains, Magadheera, Baahubali and RRR’s good triumphing over evil liberally use Indic iconographies giving the silent majority in the country a reason to cheer and derive confidence from our forgotten icons and their heroic past.
While Telugu cinema largely carried a pro-India narrative always, it is with Baahubali and RRR that the focus magnified on celebrating quintessential Hindu and Bharatiya vocabulary. RRR has also intensified the penchant to learn about lesser-known national heroes after Rajamouli picked relatively obscure historical figures to weave a patriotic tale of grit and gumption even as he paid a handsome tribute to everything gloriously Hindu. While Magadheera’s gallant warrior Kumarabhairav traversed births to unite with his lover, Baahubali’s lead avenged his father’s death to become the king of Mahishmati, RRR’s Alluri Rama Raju and Komaran Bheem take on British cruelty with unstinted bravura. The montages in the movies hark to the age of intrepid Hindu legends winning wars for their motherland and the honour of their women. And it’s done with utmost originality.
Taking India to the world stage by being vocal for local in the truest sense
As the dialogue on cultural awakening and owning our heritage strengthens in the Indian context, it was heartening how the RRR team stuck to their roots on this glamourous and extravagant outing by sporting luxurious Indian attires with heritage value. Yes, NTR Junior’s tux and talk did come across as a wee jarring but then this penchant for western validation will take some time to wear off it seems. No wonder the Deepika Padukones, Ashwariya Rai Bachchans and Priyanka Chopras are mostly in foreign couture rather than handwoven and handcrafted Indian artisanal fashion. The desire to emulate (more like copying) the Beyonces, JLos, and Rihannas is thick here. If only their stylists comprehend the nuance and significance of wearing our country’s insignia at foreign outings with pride! That reminds us of Padukone at the finale of the recently concluded FIFA World Cup. If anyone was able to guess what exactly she was wearing, do enlighten us here!
Presenting the beauty of our ancient scriptures and figures
The infusion of Indic heritage, itihaasa and Sanatan concepts is directed at making the Indian audience feel proud of their illustrious past. Remember a strapping Prabhas carrying the Shivalinga on his shoulders in Baahubali-The Beginning? Or the climactic fight sequence where Mahendra Baahubali sprays holy ash on his wounds as his blood trickles down the marble Shivalinga? In RRR, too, the makers harp on such imagery as well the Panchabhoota. In the climactic sequence, Alluri Ramaraju appears as if Shri Ram is training his arrow at the enemy. Komaram Bheem shoots his spears at the soldiers as if one would do with a Trishul. These are not just remarkable glorifications of our Sanatan heroes and their heroism but also Rajamouli recreating famous battle sequences from Ramayana and Mahabharata that is nothing but our glorious Indic history.
In one of the posters of RRR, Alluri shows Bheem on how to train a gun, taking us back to the image of Shri Krishna directing Arjun in the art of warfare. Then there is Bheem apologising to the tranquilised tiger, referring to the Hindu sentiment of treating animals with compassion. That Sanatani traditions have always shared a beautiful conjunction with nature is also impressed when Amarendra Baahubali spares sacrificing a buffalo before the battle with Kalakeya. Note here that war ensues, in both Magadheera and Baahubali, only after due respect is paid to giant Hindu deities. Now when was all this celebrated in Hindi films? Only if there was a scene of mocking or derision planned. With RRR’s wins at Golden Globe and Critics Choice Awards, the world’s movie audience gets to witness the magnificence of our Sanatani history and the depth, gallantry and beauty of our spiritual legends. They get accustomed to our Indian, rather Hindu, traditions, cultures, customs and ethos.
Music that is fresh and original
MM Keeravani’s symphony for Baahubali and RRR combined Indian classical, modern rock strains with Sanskrit lyrics. While Magadheera and the former featured romantic ballads (when Devasena croons Kannaa Nidurinchara that lulls Baahubali to sleep, it not only invokes reverence but also suggests a sweet, playful dalliance between Radha and Krishna), too, RRR’s music is heady with nationalistic fervour with the compositions Komaram Bheemudu and Janani carrying a strong patriotic undercurrent. Naatu Naatu, the song of the moment, is high on energy, even as the picturisation suggests the smashing of the colonial ego. Ramam Raghavam, on the other hand, elevates the character of Alluri to a spiritual level even as the music video has young musicians in saffron attires and nakshatra beads. Courage seems to thematically wash over the track, accompanied by the hue of fire. Can it get more Hindu than that? The audience wants a melody that isn’t accompanied by crass lyrics and jaded beats. Now it is proven that we have enough talent and originality. So, spare us the remixes, please!
Sharmi Adhikary is a senior lifestyle journalist and columnist with a yen for exploring interesting concepts in fashion, culture and cinema.