In an era where classics and epics are fast disappearing from the public’s cultural consciousness, despite the surge in ‘right wing’ sentiment politically throughout the country, the film RRR is one tremendous retelling of Ramayana which combines multiple versions, cantos and stories into one single story. It is a visual retelling of Ramayana in a very modern context. It’s a lesson on how epics should be retold, without bias of modern social justice narrative that has become almost the only lens through which we look at our past.
The primarily Telugu movie is not an attempt at the semi-historical, semi-fictional film; it is a brave attempt in myth-making. It is not meant or attempted to be rational. It is coming from a place beyond the realm of a conscious rational faculty but from a deep-seated collective, unconscious, mystical mind.
The basic plot of RRR is about Alluri Sita Rama Raju and Komaram Bheema. It is a story of two Indian revolutionaries, Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan Teja) and Komaram Bheem (Rama Rao), who fought against the British Raj and Nizam of Hyderabad respectively. The plot explores the undocumented period in their lives when both the revolutionaries choose to go into oblivion before they began the fight for their country. The genius is in an exploration of this period mapping its parallels with Ramayana.
Alluri Sita Rama Raju is a police officer with an ulterior patriotic motivation and draws heavily from the character of Shri Rama. There is also the originally forest-dwelling Bhima, who is in the city in search of a small girl stolen from his tribe and lives under disguise. His character draws heavily from the character of Hanuman.
At its core, RRR is a story of revenge and redemption against the British in general and General Scott in particular. But the way the story is told is where it gets interesting because narrative overlaps with Ramayana become more and more unmistakable as the movie progresses. The police officer Alluri Rama Raju is a quasi-Rama hero, who lives out his dharma even if it means separation from his Sita (Alia Bhat), death of his father (Ajay Devgn), and even fighting his own best friend (NTR Jr) Bheema is Dasa bhava personified — humble, simple, devoted, and duty-bound.
The genius lies in the narration where multiple themes fall in place at the climax and then you realise it was Ramayana retold.
In one of the scenes, Rama Raju gets poisoned and Bheema saves him, much like Hanuman always does when Shri Rama is in trouble. Then Bheem gets bound and becomes a prisoner of Scott for a greater cause- not his own but that of Rama Raju. Rama Raju is a man of phenomenal abilities, but all channelized in service of Dharma. Bheema is a legend roaming around, known by many, seen by few- much like Hanuman. He recognises his Rama even if they have never met before- just like it didn’t take long for Hanuman and Sri Rama to form a rapport of a lifetime. He promises that he won’t rest until Sita meets Rama and he does not. The symbolic exchange of jewellery by the mediation of Bheema reminds one of Sundara Kanda where Hanuman plays the messenger. His rescue of Rama Raju draws from the rescue of Shri Rama by Hanuman from patala loka, from the clutches of Mahi-Ravana. He has no weapons to say his own apart from his arms much like Hanuman.
The most impactful scene to watch out for in RRR is where Bheema lifts Rama Raju and he fights the Brits. It is straight out of Kamba Ramayana where Hanuman lifts Shri Rama to fight Ravana. Needless to say SS RajamoulI does more than justice to the scene, he re-animates it to the extent of re-enactment. To understand the significance of this scene, you need to have read what Maha Kavi Kamba writes in his Ramayana.
Finally, all falls in place when Rama Raju appears in saffron clothes, armed with a bow and arrow. It is the truest depiction of Shri Rama- the “tiger amongst men”, the one who is remembered as nara-vyaghra. This movie has arguably the best Shri Rama ever depicted on celluloid.
Among other themes were the glorification of Purushartha and the acceptance of necessary violence that is necessary for the full expression of Purushartha. This is a very healthy break from the “bina khadag bina dhaal” narrative that has been forced down our collective throat since independence, glossing over the blood spilt by our freedom fighters for independence. It shows that without the offering of blood, the Ranachandi, the warrior mother is neither satisfied nor pleased. She is to be worshipped by purushartha and prana, and nothing less. Also, it is a glimpse as to how our epics, in their true swaroopa, inspired the freedom struggle and galvanized a sleeping nation, and also lends the hope that they will be able to do it again. Mohandas K Gandhi is conspicuous by his absence in the closing scene, which shows many freedom fighters. This is a break from the norm of any movies with a pre-independence backdrop, and it is not necessarily a bad thing.
Do watch the movie with this backdrop and revel in Shri Rama’s glory as a man of untiring action and a warrior unparalleled. I suspect SS Rajamouli is a recipient of Hanuman’s anugraha, and must certainly be undergoing some sort of Hanuman sadhana- without which such perception and such retelling is impossible.
Also, one gets a gut feeling that SS Rajamouli has a larger aim to make Ramayana on a bigger screen and films like Baahubali and RRR are pilots before the actual Ramayana is set into motion. I can hardly say I am not excited, but the magnitude of the project at present exceeds my limited imaginative abilities.
Edited by Mrinaal Prem Swarroop Srivastava