Do we still have fun at the cinema? At times like this, this seems like one of the most salient questions when writing about entertainment. And the answer, most often, is no. Marvel movies were once fun but now look almost infinitely full with their long run times and unsaturated color palette fermented by a spray of Joss Whedon-esque sarcasm. DC movies don’t even try to be fun – Emo Batman, anyone?
But if blockbuster American films contain forbidden fun, we can’t say the same for Bollywood – SS Rajamouli’s $$$$ It is nothing but fun from start to finish. Bollywood releases are regularly distributed throughout the United States by smaller distributors targeting diaspora audiences who are looking for a way to watch their own national cinema, and for these audiences, $$$$ It is one of the biggest releases of the year. I saw him a few months ago at the AMC Waterfront in a theater full of Indian families.
Now, the film is screened again at the Harris Theater in its undubbed form on Wednesday, June 1 (the original version of the film is in Telugu, one of India’s many indigenous languages, while the only version of the film is available on Netflix now dubbed in Hindi .)
The film imagines the friendship between two true Indian revolutionaries, Allori Sitarama Raju (played by the incredibly handsome Ram Charan) and Kumaram Bhim (nicely portrayed by NT Rama Rao Jr). Fahim is a warrior from the Gond tribe and finds his way to Delhi after a funny cartoon British ruler and his fearsome wife Botox kidnap and enslave a child of the tribe. He plots to rescue her, and along the way befriends Raju – who, unbeknownst to Bheem, is an eerily brutal police officer serving the British government, who has been tasked with going undercover as a revolutionary to find and arrest Bheem. I won’t spoil the various twists and turns but, needless to say, the two eventually team up to take down evil colonists while looking badass and winning the hearts of every woman they encounter.
Like many Bollywood films, the running time starts at less than three hours. But if three hours in the hands of Marvel Studios feels heavy and repetitive, three hours in Rajamouli’s hands is almost hysterical with its many delights. The early action sequence where Raju suppresses an angry mob of locals who threaten to overthrow the British government is one of the best choreographed action scenes I’ve seen in a long time, with the camera and editing frantically moving to follow each beat as Raju mechanically demolishes the crowd blow each time. . It rules!
The scene where Raju and Bhim finally meet includes a train exploding and derailing in a river, which later catches fire with a child stranded on a piece of wreckage. The two come up with closed eyes and seem to contend with a plan to save the baby, one that involves them diving away from opposite ends of a train bridge attached to a rope, and swinging through the flames to catch the baby and bring him to safety. As it rules!
At one point, the two had such a strong dance that he managed to crash the dance floor and bring the frail-looking British boys around them to tears while sending the women into a complete faint. It’s… well, you get the point.
In short, this is the definitive “rock dudes”, where the bond between super-revolutionaries is so strong that it turns every excess of filmmaking into an expression of their cosmic alignment. They are real revolutionaries. The epic violence depicted in the film is always anti-colonial violence in the service of independence. In comparison, the politics that underpin American blockbusters are bland and/or incomprehensible—the only thing that justifies their plots is the studio CEO’s focus on intellectual property known as a way to increase the box office gross. If our system can only produce films that refuse to make the most of their astronomical budgets, why not look elsewhere? $$$$ Good place to start.
$$$$. 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 1. Harris Theatre. 809 Freedom Street, Downtown. $10-12. trustarts.org