Ram Charan, left, and NT Rama Rao Jr. in “RRR,” which was nominated for Best Song on Tuesday.Credit…DVD entertainment
Pop Quiz: What are the three R’s?
They’re not Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – one of the hottest topics of conversation this awards season has quickly become the Telugu-language Indian action spectacle “RRR” or “Rise, Roar, Revolt,” which earned an Oscar nomination for Best Song on Tuesday.
Starring two of India’s most popular actors – Ram Charan and NT Rama Rao Jr – the film is set in Delhi in the early 1920s and follows two patriotic but philosophically opposed men who join forces to save a kidnapped girl (Twinkle Sharma) from the Save City British Colonial Officials (Alison Doody and Ray Stevenson).
The film was already a global box office success when it was released in March – directed by one of India’s top-grossing filmmakers, SS Rajamouli, on a whopping $72 million budget – and grossed $65 million in its opening weekend.
But now it’s become the rare Indian hit that resonated with American viewers outside the Indian diaspora thanks to word of mouth on social media and an unusual theatrical re-release strategy.
After the film, originally distributed by Sarigama Cinemas, hit 1,200 screens nationwide in March – and streamed on Netflix in late May – Dylan Marchetti, president of distributor Variance Films, recognized its potential crossover appeal, as he watched it again and again with an enthusiastic audience.
So Variance got in touch with Sarigama, and they took the rare step of rebooting the film – sold to theatrical audience as “encoRRRe” – leading to its breakthrough in the United States.
Speaking to The Times in August, Cristina Cacioppo, who programmed “RRR” at Brooklyn’s Nitehawk Prospect Park, said it draws moviegoers aged 20 to 30, most from outside the Indian diaspora.
“There was a surge of joy everywhere,” Cacioppo told The Times. “You could feel the room smiling and jaws dropping.” (More than three hours during which Charan and Rao wrestle tigers, pull off a daring bridge rescue involving a motorbike, a horse and a burning wagon, and school British partygoers while dancing in perfect sync in matching suspenders will do that.)
Josh Hurtado, a consultant at independently owned Potentate Films who worked with Sarigama and Marchetti on a one-night theatrical revival of RRR in June, told The Times that many attendees praised the film for the same reasons who had previously discouraged them from watching new Indian films: “Long running times, song and dance numbers and ridiculous action,” he said. “People come out and say they wish this three-hour movie was longer.”
The film also gained a robust following on TikTok with its catchy syncopated dance number “Naatu Naatu” (Telugu for “native”), which became a viral hit thanks to Charan and Rama Rao’s playful syncopated dance moves and infectious vocals. (Lyrics are by Chandrabose, while MM Keeravani composed the music.)
After winning a Golden Globe for Best Original Song, as well as a Critics Choice Award for Best Foreign Language Film and a New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director for Rajamouli earlier this month, the film has turned its eyes squarely on the big picture : an Oscar for Best Song for Charan and NTR Jr.’s upbeat extravaganza of shoulder rolls, arm pumps and hook steps.