• Ideas
  • Sep 08, 2022

RRR Lore

Leopard-throws, piggyback rides, dancing in suspenders, and anti-colonial firefights; hailed as a Marvel movie on steroids, the Telugu-language epic RRR (Rise, Roar, Revolt) (2022) is a masala of CGI spectacles and rom-com high jinks. The unexpected global hit is inspired by two real-life revolutionaries in the British Raj, Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem, as well as the Hindu epic poems Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Statues of Alluri Sitarama Raju (left) and Komaram Bheem (right). Image from Wikipedia Commons.

In the film’s imaginary plot, a fictional Alluri Sitarama Raju infiltrates the British Raj as an officer to acquire firearms for his village and meets the equally-imagined Komaram Bheem, who is on a mission to rescue a child kidnapped by the governor. In real life, the leaders fought separately:

Alluri Sitarama Raju was an ascetic from southeast India known for his naturalist and mystic knowledge. Riding across tribal lands, he witnessed the hardship of the Indigenous Adivasi peoples after the passing of the restrictive and exploitive 1882 Madras Forest Act, and rallied a rebellion against the British. Organizing guerrilla campaigns and raids on police stations, he earned the nickname “Manyam Veerudu” (Hero of the Jungle).

Meanwhile, Komaram Bheem was a Gondi tribal leader from south-central India who led a rebellion against the oppressive Nizam monarchy, landlords, and forest police. A unionist and a rebel, Bheem called a council of tribal leaders and partnered with communists to fight for the liberation of the Hyderabad State, coining the slogan “Jal, Jangal, Zameen (Water, Forest, Land).

The warriors died in the hands of British officers and armed policemen respectively, and were lionized by the Adivasis as symbols of eco-justice and freedom.

ANONYMOUS, Rama kills the demon warrior Makaraksha in combat, approx. 1790, Opaque watercolors on paper. Copyright and courtesy of Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

In RRR, the character Bheem realizes Raju’s clandestine role, and pledges to reunite the spy with his wife Sita. A fiery battle against the British sees Raju shred his British police uniform to wear saffron-colored bottoms and a holy mark on his forehead. His new attire resembles that of Lord Rama, the Hindu deity. Wielding a bow and arrow, he sets the governor’s compound ablaze.

One of the two great Hindu epics, the Ramayana tells the story of Lord Rama, an ideal man of royal descent, whose wife Sita was kidnapped by the demon-king Ravana. Aided by the ape-like forest dweller Hanuman, he defeats Ravana in a legendary battle.

The film’s euphoric momentum is cumulated in a final dance, in which the cast wave the Calcutta flag in front of gigantic gun sculptures, canons, and iron fists, while spotlights beam on images of Hindu nationalist heroes. History and myths were engulfed in RRR’s militant jubilation.

Curated by an ArtAsiaPacific editor, “Lore” is a biweekly blog that probes into the histories and mythologies of media.


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