RRR: India Oscar snub explained

SS Rajamouli’s historical epic was an obvious choice for India’s Oscar submission, but despite not being the country’s official choice, its awards season journey is just beginning.

SS Rajamouli in the middle of his Oscar campaign India threw a wrench in the process. The country announced this week that it would not submit “RRR,” as its official Oscar submission for Best International Feature, the successful Indian Telugu-language action-adventure epic that has become a surprise hit in the US. Instead, the Film Federation of India went with “Last Film Show”, an autobiographical coming-of-age drama about a young boy’s growing love of films.

For many viewers who have adopted “RRR” (which stands for “Rise, Roar, Revolt”) in recent months, the decision comes as a shock on several fronts. “RRR” was India’s rare crossover event film. The film grossed $65 million on its opening weekend in India, then $14 million in the US, thanks to the theatrical relaunch of Variance Releasing at an arthouse called “encoRRRe”; Which overlapped with a Hindi-language dub on Netflix, where it became an even bigger phenomenon.

It has grossed $170 million worldwide and remained in Netflix’s top 10 for 14 consecutive weeks, making it exactly the kind of international phenomenon that naturally leads the way. Prize The promise of the season – “Parasite” – continued.

Watching the film, it’s easy to see why: “RRR” is a thrilling historical spectacle, with first-rate action sequences that don’t come at the expense of an emotional story. Inspired by the Sanskrit epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, the plot follows the efforts of a tribal guardian (NT Rama Rao Jr.) who is assigned to rescue a kidnapped girl from the colonial authorities. While undercover, he befriends an officer of the Indian Royal Police (Ram Charan) as the pair bond over their mutual strength and apparent patriotism. Those bonds are tested, of course, as the truth comes out. In the process, there are stunning action sequences and a sense of scale worthy of Cecil B. DeMille: a trapeze-like sequence set under a bridge, a fistfight with a tiger, and some extraordinary musical numbers with the potential to win over even Bollywood skeptics.

However, for all that hype, India’s academy did what it usually does: ignore the hype and go with your priorities. “RRR” is hardly the first Indian rendition out of sync with award potential in recent years. Mira Nair’s “Salaam Bombay!” Only three Indian films have been nominated in the 65 years since the country was first presented in the category, but the country has not cracked the category since 2001’s “Lagaan”.

But there have been several potential contenders. The 2013 Hindi-language crowdplayer “The Lunchbox” premiered at Cannes and received much support from Sony Pictures Classics before going on with “The Good Road” in India; In 2020, Chaitanya Tamhane’s immersive, decade-long drama “The Discipline” was a hit in Venice and scored Alfonso Cuarón as an executive producer, but the country presented the edgy action-thriller “Jallikattu” instead.

India has a tendency to avoid presenting films that reflect the cultural distinctiveness of Bollywood and Tollywood fiction, with their genre-busting fervor and musical expression. Maybe the biggest hurdle in this process is to “rrr” from the start and undo its final form. (Others have held that the way the film embraces Hindu nationalism, thus presenting Muslims as enemies, was more than a little problem on the domestic front.) But the success of “RRR” in the US made Rajamouli’s success. And inspired his production team. To launch an awards campaign prior to the submission process, financed by your own production company.

Rajamouli traveled to the Toronto International Film Festival last week for a public talk, followed by members of the Academy traveling to New York for a special screening; He will next appear at the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles for an IMAX screening on September 30.

MUMBAI, INDIA - APRIL 06: SS Rajamouli attends the success party of the movie 'RRR' on April 06, 2022 in Mumbai, India.  (Photo by Pradeep Guha/Getty Images)

SS Rajamouli in Mumbai

Getty Images

There’s still potential: As with “Parasite,” Rajamouli’s accomplishment is strong enough to crack several other categories, including director and screenplay, not to mention the many craft achievements that make it “Top Gun: Maverick.” Must be placed with choice. For Dylan Marchetti, president of Variance Films, which runs the “RRR” campaign in the US, the campaign has a long way to go.

Marchetti, who oversaw the successful theatrical release of Oscar-winning “Drive My Car” last year, said that “RRR” would receive a significant Best Picture campaign, but he also saw potential for Best Original Song (“Natu Natu”). . Apart from the categories of Cinematography, Production Design, Editing and many more. The acting categories are competitive, but don’t count a wild card slot that could favor Rao Jr. or Charm, both of which are big stars of South India. The hashtag “#RRRforOscars” has been trending on Twitter for the past one week. “The change in this news is just one less prize we can go after,” Marketi said hours after the Indian decision was announced. “Right now we can go on for over a dozen others. This movie is the complete package.”

He said that like “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Everything Everywhere All At Once”, Rajamouli’s achievement reflects a rare theatrical success story in post-pandemic America. It played 1,200 screens upon its initial release and an additional 200 upon return to theatres; For the time being, it continues to play in theaters in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, and additional cities are booked through the end of the year. “I don’t think ‘RRR’ is India’s best film this year,” Markheti said. “It’s the best film in the world this year. We’re going to act accordingly.”

These categories will require a significant and time-intensive push to keep the film at the forefront of the conversation as the season heats up. Marchetti focuses on getting Academy members to watch the film in theatres, which is no easy feat when many of them watch films on the Academy Screening Portal, where “RRR” hasn’t been posted yet. “Right now our focus is getting voters to see the film as they intended to see it on the big screen,” Marchetti. “I think the film benefits from the vibe it gives to the audience — but wherever you watch it, it’s great.”

Rajamouli, a successful director in India for almost 20 years, never tried to promote his work in this context. During a conversation with IndieWire at TIFF before India turned down his film, the jetlagged filmmaker admitted that Oscar talks were new to him.

“I have absolutely no idea about the process – I’ve never thought about it,” he said. “I don’t know how the whole thing works. Obviously, an Oscar for an Indian filmmaker is a very, very big deal. Everyone dreams about it. But only a few times have we got a chance to be nominated.” Everything that has happened so far with this film has happened completely organically, and that has encouraged us to move forward.”

Rajamouli cited “Braveheart” as an inspiration for the way “RRR” mixes intense, brutal action showdowns with real high stakes. “RRR” borrows some of those tropes, but also leans them into actual entertainment, the kind of thoughtful blockbusters you’ll want Hollywood to make more often. This is because Rajamouli has learned to acknowledge the potential for experimentation in Indian commercial cinema. “I’ve felt for a long time that Western cinema has a clear framework in which they place characters,” he said. “In Indian films, the framework was too loose, I thought maybe too loose. But later on, I felt that the Western framework was probably too restrictive.

Rajamouli said the film’s rising international profile has influenced the 48-year-old director’s way of thinking about his career, which so far has come to the fore especially within the Indian industry. “A filmmaker is a storyteller who wants as many audiences as possible to reach as many people as possible,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t know how Hollywood works. For the past 25 years I’ve made films in a certain way. But I’m very curious. If I can learn anything from it, I’d really like to work on a Hollywood production.” Would like to learn the nuances of filmmaking there. Let’s see how it goes.”

For now, though, he said he was developing a new Telugu-language film – but not a sequel to “RRR”, despite many corners of the internet for just that. He laughed at that demand. “I would love to,” he said. “I have to have a story first.”

In the meantime, he will continue to promote “RRR” across the US. With the Academy’s 25 percent international membership and a growing desire within the organization to embrace international cinema in all of its categories, the film’s awards season journey is just beginning.

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