Bollywood is the term that, in the collective imagination, combines all the films of (and made in) India. The conjunction between Bombay (now Mumbai) and Hollywood is not an empty signifier.
For some it may be a derogatory, mocking way of referring to a cinema that tried to copy Hollywood, without counting on the budget of the productions made in the world cinema mecca.
But India is not only the largest film producer in the world (in 2019, 2,446 films were produced in that country, against 792 productions made in India). USA) but is the second oldest film industry of all, only behind Hollywood.
RRR, the epic movie that opens in March in India, not only became a local phenomenon: broke the barriers of the Asian market, conquering the box office in the United Kingdom (where it was placed second in collection in the opening week, competing against Batman) and the United States (third, in front of the hero of DC and The lost city, with Sandra Bullock ), was lauded by critics, drew comparisons to Marvel, and was bought by Netflix to be distributed in the rest of the world. What are the keys to this massive success?
The title, RRR, in the movie stands forrise (get up),Roar (roars), andrevolt (turn around). It is the (fictional) story that unites two revolutionary heroes of the (real) History of India, Alluri Sitarama Raju (with a look inspired, in the film, by Che Guevara and The Motorcycle Diaries) and Komaram Bheem.
In RRR they are capable of feats that defy the laws of physics, as if they were mythical figures, to perform incredible feats. In real life they never met, although they were contemporaries, but the cinema brought them together to imagine them as great friends who meet by accident. The problem is that each pursues an agenda that secretly makes them enemies. One working undercover for the British Empire, the other on a mission to rescue an Indian girl kidnapped by royalty from England.
Outside of the film the title RRR suggests otherwise. It’s how fans of SS Rajamouli, the director, NT Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan, the two leads, dubbed the project when it was announced that the three would be working together. Rajamouli had directed, in 2015 and 2017, the two Bahubali films that were successful in his country. India not only has the seniority in the industry.
In 2019, 379 million movie tickets were sold there, making it one of the markets that consumes the most movies on the big screen (only behind China and the United States). It is true that tickets in India are priced lower than those in countries like those in North America or Europe, and that its films are rarely able to cross borders to exert the cultural impact of the biggest Hollywood productions.
But that could change.
Tollywood not Bollywood
Heroes who are friends but seem destined to face each other on the battlefield carry another symbolic weight in India.
In 2014 the state where the director was born, Andhra Pradesh, was divided and the state of Telangana was formed, for political and economic reasons, even though they both speak the same language, Telugu, and – as the exhausted functions of RRR suggested – they share passions in common The intention, Rajamouli confesses, was to unify the two regions through their greatest heroes. The vehicle is the cinema.
Bengali films were not produced in Bombay, because Tollywood is a term that precedes Bollywood. The tradition of cinema produced in Bengal includes names like Satyajit Ray, director of the Apu trilogy and other classics, admired by Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Franois Truffaut, Akira Kurosawa and Carlos Saura, among others.
Tollywood cinema, like Bollywood later did, not only developed its own identity. Product of cultural hybridization before the arrival of the Internet, it rescued the best of cinema from the first golden age of Hollywood, where musicals and pharaonic productions full of extras and immense sets reigned.
Indian industrial cinema is an amalgamation that refers to a certain period, place and time, but it got its own style.
Once upon a time in India
In the interplay of influences and cultural assimilation, English filmmakers such as Richard Attenborough and David Lean, with Gandhi and A Passage to India, also filmed the British colonization of India. Although those two titles, and several more, such as An Extraordinary Adventure, by Ang Lee, and Slumdog Millionaire, by Danny Boyle, are films set in India (which even take some elements of form and substance from that cinema), they were nominated or won an Oscar, no Indian film (to date) has won the award.
In RRR the revolutionaries plan to use the settlers’ weapons as tools for their own liberation. Something similar to what happened in Lagaan, the Oscar-nominated Indian film in 2002, where a group of Indians dared to challenge the English to a game of cricket. The four-hour epic, which competed with Son of the Bride for the Oscar, was part sports movie, part musical, part melodrama and part comedy. Although it was a success, it lost the award against No Man’s Land, the film from Bosnia.
the avengers of indian cinema
RRR cost US$75 million (the most expensive film in the history of the Asian country) and in just six days it grossed more than US$88 million. The director does not hide that he knew the film was going to be a success: That’s why we spent so much on making it. Because we knew we had the stars and the emotional story, but we couldn’t predict success in other countries.
That explains why they decided to postpone the original release date, in 2020, when the pandemic hit, and why the March 2022 release brought Indian audiences back to theaters when they reopened without capacity limits.
The commercial success was also accompanied by the critical success. On RottenTomatoes, the United States site that accumulates reviews from specialized media to form a consensus in percentage form, RRR (with 91% positive reviews) surpassed Avengers: Endgame (90%) and is already ranked as one of the best. of this year. When Rajamouli was asked if he would be willing to direct a comic book superhero movie, he replied: I grew up with the mythology of India and the history of it. I love watching Marvel movies, but I wouldn’t be able to direct one of those because I have a different sensibility. What I hope is to bring my stories of India, the mythology of India, to the level of Marvel. Or even more.