Spoiler alert: RRR

One of the surprise hits of the year is Rise Roar Revolt (better known as RRR), a revolutionary-era blockbuster from India. The film is the latest from well-known director SS Rajamouli, whose previous films Baahubali: The beginning (2015) and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017) both rank among the top 5 highest grossing films in Indian history.

That’s no surprise then RRR was highly anticipated – but what was really surprising was the massive global impact the film had. Upon its release on Netflix in March, it quickly became the most watched non-English language film of all time on the streaming platform. The critical response was phenomenal, too: at the Hollywood Critics Association Midseason Awards RRR came second in the Best Picture category, just behind the critically-loved film Everything everywhere at once. Everything indicates that the Indian film will be a strong contender for Best International Film at next year’s Oscars as well.


Why is RRR resonates so strongly with the viewers? Well, the plot and action are explosive, and the film is made with a passion and sense of style that’s just infectious. This, combined with an impressive thematic depth, makes for a stunning film that completely dwarfs most Hollywood blockbusters.

It’s worth noting that, like many Hollywood blockbusters, RRR is steeped in a disturbing ideology: ethnic Hindu nationalism and gender inequality abound. That being said, for foreign audiences (who most likely won’t notice), the rest of the film has refreshing thematic and symbolic depth. One of the most outstanding aspects of this is how animal imagery is used to structure its story.

The story of RRR revolves around the metaphor of the hunt

RRR is a brilliantly executed story of British colonialism in India. One of the key ways the film reflects the hierarchical relationship between the two nations is through the metaphor of the hunt. In the film’s opening scene, the British colonial governor (Ray Stevenson) goes on a hunting trip into the jungle. On the way back, he and his entourage stop in a small village where his wife (Alison Doody) is entranced by the beautiful singing voice of Malli (Twinkle Sharma), an Indian child.

When the governor triumphantly drops his hunting prize (a large deer) on the floor, his wife remarks that they should bring “it” home for a mantel—but she’s referring to Malli, not the deer. The British soldiers kidnap the girl in broad daylight and bring her back to the governor’s palace and the rest of the film follows the attempts of several men from the village to rescue her.

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Equating the dead stag and Malli as trophies for the white British governor’s collection perfectly executes the hunting metaphor that structures the film. Throughout the rest of the film, this metaphor appears in a number of ways. For example, when we first see Bheem (NT Rama Rao Jr.), one of the male villagers, he is chasing and capturing a wild tiger in the jungle. When he later travels to Delhi to rescue Malli, the police are looking for him. There are several scenes around town where he and his friends are being chased by the police, and the lyrics to several musical numbers specifically describe him as “a tiger” being chased. Finally, the climax fight scene at the end of the film takes place in the jungle, where a character fights with a bow and arrow as if chasing wild animals.

Indians are treated “like animals”.

In the hunting metaphor, the British are the hunters and the Indians are the hunted. Implicitly, then, Native Americans take the position of the beast in this regard. In fact, the British characters constantly compare Native Americans to animals in the film’s dialogue, both to reinforce the hunter/hunted metaphor and to emphasize how cruel and degrading the British are.

While interrogating some Delhi citizens, a British officer says “the monkeys” won’t tell him anything. While searching for Bheem and his friends, another says they need to “flush the rats out of their holes.” The governor later refers to the villagers as “jungle rats”. Elsewhere, the only good white person in the film, mistress Jenny (Olivia Morris), berates a British officer for being rude to Bheem. She yells at the officer, saying he has no right to treat Bheem “like an animal.” All of these animal comparisons reinforce the hunter/animal metaphor and British cruelty, but at an even deeper level they set the film’s most brilliant thematic moves.

Through dialogue, the British characters attempt to demean Native Americans by referring to them as animals. However, the film itself uses animal imagery to recapture these comparisons and embrace masculine, animalistic power. Throughout the film, Indian characters are associated with nature in a variety of ways. First off, Malli, Bheem and the others hail from a tiny village in the woods. But while the British characters interpret this as being primitive “tribals,” the film itself argues that this gives them power.

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When Bheem’s friend Raju (Ram Charan) is bitten by a poisonous snake, only the so-called “tribals” can save him – they have an antidote, the British doctors don’t. About halfway through the film, Bheem stages an attack on the palace to save Malli, and he does so by releasing captive bears, tigers, deer, and snakes into the courtyard.

While the Indian characters are generally associated with animals, the two main characters are associated with more specific imagery. As mentioned, Bheem’s first major scene shows him fighting a tiger barehanded, and several of the musical numbers refer to him as a ‘tiger’ in the lyrics. He’s an extremely, almost cartoonish, strong and muscular man, while many of the British officers are overweight and useless (you can’t even start your own motorbike and need Bheem to help). But he’s not only strong; he is strong “like a tiger”. His closeness to nature gives him strength. His personal weapon is a chain of tiger claws, which he holds between his fingers like Marvel’s Wolverine.

The other main character is Raju, Bheem’s friend and an undercover agent within the British Army. Raju is seen riding a horse in several key moments in the film, including rescuing the boy who fell into the river. In fact, Raju is shown riding horses so often that astute viewers can predict well in advance that his association with animal imagery (like the other Indian rebels) means he will switch sides and fight the British. His connection to nature shows which side he is on.

In this way, the film reclaims the “animal” metaphors as a source of pride. Strong as a tiger, Bheem could hold his own in a fight with a dozen British soldiers. Thus, through Raju’s association with animals and through the hunter/hunted metaphor that structures the film, RRRThe use of animal imagery reflects the plot of the film as a whole.

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