The Indian spectacular has become a word-of-mouth smash hit in the United States — in theaters, no less.
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By Sarah Bahr
Pop quiz: What are the three R’s?
They aren’t reduce, reuse, recycle — this awards season, one of the hottest topics of conversation has quickly become the Telugu-language Indian action spectacular “RRR,” or “Rise, Roar, Revolt,” which picked up an Oscar nomination for best song on Tuesday.
The movie, which stars two of India’s most popular actors — Ram Charan and N.T. Rama Rao Jr. — is set in Delhi during the early 1920s and follows two patriotic but philosophically opposed men who team up to rescue a kidnapped girl (Twinkle Sharma) from British colonial officials (Alison Doody and Ray Stevenson).
The film was already a worldwide box office success when it was released in March — it was directed by one of India’s most successful filmmakers, S.S. Rajamouli, with a whopping $72 million budget — and grossed $65 million during its opening weekend.
But now, it has become the rare Indian hit to catch on with American viewers outside the Indian diaspora, thanks to word-of-mouth social media buzz and an unusual theatrical rerelease strategy.
After the film, originally distributed by Sarigama Cinemas, initially played at 1,200 screens across the country in March — and began streaming on Netflix in late May — Dylan Marchetti, the president of the distributor Variance Films, saw its potential crossover appeal when he watched it repeatedly with enthusiastic audiences.
So Variance got in touch with Sarigama, and they took the rare step of relaunching the film — sold to moviegoers as an “encoRRRe” — which led to its breakthrough in the United States.
Speaking to The Times in August, Cristina Cacioppo, who programmed “RRR” at the Nitehawk Prospect Park in Brooklyn, said it drew moviegoers in the 20-to-30 age range, most from outside the Indian diaspora.
“There was an overall wave of joy throughout,” Cacioppo told The Times. “You could feel the room smiling, the jaws dropping.” (More than three hours of Charan and Rao wrestling tigers; pulling off a daring bridge rescue involving a motorcycle, a horse and a flaming train car; and schooling British partygoers as they dance in perfect synchronization in matching suspenders will do that.)
Josh Hurtado, a consultant at the independently run Potentate Films who collaborated with Sarigama and Marchetti on a one-night-only theatrical revival of “RRR” in June, told The Times that many attendees praised the film for the same reasons that had previously discouraged them from watching new Indian movies: “long run times, song and dance numbers, and ridiculous action” he said. “People come out saying they wish that this three-hour movie were longer.”
The film also gained a robust afterlife on TikTok, with its earwormy syncopated dance number “Naatu Naatu” (Telugu for “Native Native”), becoming a viral hit thanks to Charan and Rama Rao’s playful syncopated dance moves and infectious singing. (The lyrics are by Chandrabose, while M.M. Keeravani composed the music.)
After winning a Golden Globe for best original song earlier this month, 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, the film has its sights squarely trained on the big one: a best song Oscar for Charan and NTR Jr.’s joyous extravaganza of shoulder rolls, arm pumps and hook steps.
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