Indian action blockbuster ‘RRR’ roars back to theaters
For movie fans in the know, there is life before “RRR,” and there’s life after “RRR.”
The three-hour-plus, Indian historical action blockbuster set in the 1920s is bursting with flying motorcycles, flaming arrows, brooding bromance and physics-defying heroics. It opened in March to huge anticipation from South Asian U.S. audiences, who made the Telugu-language film the second highest grossing Indian film of all time in America.
If you missed “RRR” in its initial run, you’re in luck: this summer, after collecting a $140 million worldwide box office, the breakout hit from celebrated filmmaker S.S. Rajamouli (“Eega,” “Baahubali Pt. 1 & 2”) will roar again for one night on June 1 in 100+ U.S. theaters, including Alamo Drafthouse locations and NYC’s IFC Center.
Presented by Variance Films and Potentate Films with Sarigama Cinemas, the “#encoRRRe” event springs from outsized interest in “RRR,” which generated some of the strongest word-of-mouth buzz for a global cinema release in recent memory.
“America has embraced ‘RRR’ as its own and crossing borders, the love that the American audience has shown our film has been gratifying,” writer-director Rajamouli said in a statement. “Excited that they get to relive the experience at the re-release, thanks to Variance and Potentate.”
With a flair for spectacle to rival the “Fast & Furious” franchise and an MCU (that’s mythic cinematic universe) of its own, “RRR” (short for “Rise! Roar! Revolt!”) imagines a fictional team-up between two revolutionary folk heroes portrayed by Indian superstars — N.T. Rama Rao Jr. as Komaram Bheem and Ram Charan as Alluri Sitarama Raju — who unite to fight against the British Raj.
Hailing from the South Indian Telugu-language film industry known as Tollywood, distinct from the Hindi-language films of Bollywood, “RRR” boasts breathtaking action sequences and musical numbers including the viral “Naatu Naatu,” a catchy Ukraine-shot song and dance sequence featuring an anti-colonialist message and fleet-footed moves by Charan and Rama Rao.
Reportedly one of the biggest budgeted Indian productions of all time, it is now the second highest grossing Indian film in U.S. box office history behind 2017’s $22-million-generating sequel “Baahubali 2: The Conclusion” — the most recent film from Rajamouli, who has been compared to Steven Spielberg and James Cameron in terms of his avid following.
Both films have outgrossed the top performing Bollywood titles in the U.S. as the Tollywood film industry has risen in popularity in recent years.
The June event may be the last chance for U.S. moviegoers to see “RRR” on the big screen in its original uncut Telugu version, with some theaters featuring a Dolby Atmos sound mix. Netflix licensed streaming rights but will only release it in dubbed Hindi, English, Korean, Portuguese, Turkish and Spanish versions.
“RRR” played a big part in making 2022 a breakout year for Telugu-language films stateside, according to Gitesh Pandya, co-founder of Box Office Guru Media, adding that the film had been delayed multiple times by the pandemic, building even greater fan anticipation on opening weekend.
It’s easy to find evidence of a fervent global “RRR” fandom online. Upon release in March, social media flooded with gifs, memes and viral videos of audiences cheering, dancing and throwing confetti inside theaters. “RRR” is still playing strong in more than 500 cinemas around the world, according to D.V.V. Entertainment. So why re-release a film that already scored a robust $14.5 million on 1,200 U.S. screens?
Chandra Narisetty, president of Sarigama Cinemas, hopes that “RRR’s” encore presentation helps establish a benchmark of success that future Indian film releases can follow in the U.S., where they compete with Hollywood studio fare for cineplex bookings but continue to do strong business.
His company recently followed “RRR” by releasing “KGF 2,” a hit sequel that topped the former’s grosses worldwide.
Variance’s Dylan Marchetti has experience navigating the challenge of helping three-hour Asian films connect with audiences, having helped distribute Ryûsuke Hamaguchi‘s Oscar-winning drama “Drive My Car.” He compares “RRR’s” unique alchemy of awe-inspiring action and rousing storytelling with George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” and believes it can expand further and connect with new film audiences hungry for thrilling cinematic experiences.
“Opening night at one of these movies is the most fun you can have in the theater, full stop,” said Marchetti, adding that Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters don’t even feature multiple pulse-pounding action sequences before the title card pops up onscreen, as “RRR” does.
As for the June 1 encore screenings, Potentate’s Josh Hurtado, a film festival consultant who championed Rajamouli’s previous films, hopes that bringing “RRR” back to theaters will open doors for Indian and international cinema as well as introduce new cinephiles to the filmmaker’s work.
“The goal here is to show people the best movie they’ve ever seen,” said Hurtado, “and also help Rajamouli make the next best movie they’ve ever seen by making his name a worldwide household name.”