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RRR: It is History, that has been Butchered

A Review in Telugu by Vadrevu Chinna Veerabhadrudu*

Translated into English by C. Yamini Krishna**

In the context of the recent win for the song “Naatu Naatu” from RRR as the Best Original Song, at the Golden Globes, the film has been described as “Indian pride”, “Telugu Satta/ Telugu pride” on the global stage. What gets lost in this high decibel marketing led jubilation is the nature of the actual film itself. There is a need to revisit the film critically in order not to make this film another artefact of national pride. It is important to ask what is the pride all about? Also, one needs to understand the cultural context in which such a film was made.

Furthermore, all that has been critically discussed by the film has had a limited circulation within the Telugu audience and is not known to other film enthusiasts. Here is a review of the film, written by a well-known Telugu writer Vadrevu Chinna Veerabhadrudu, who has also worked very closely with the “tribes” which the film represents. Originally written in Telugu, it has been translated into English by C. Yamini Krishna, a film scholar, for wider circulation.

I watched the film RRR yesterday night. In 3 hrs and 7 mins, the worry that there is no absurdist literature or absurdist play in Telugu was put to rest. Perhaps this is the longest absurdist film in the world. I couldn’t but help being astonished at the creative abilities of the team which conceived this.

They have mentioned right in the beginning that the characters, places and incidents are completely fictional and have no resemblance with any real-life incidents, so ideally I should not be saying anything about it. They might have written such a disclaimer to avoid getting into legal troubles of vilification of history or hurting community sentiments.  However usually such a disclaimer is made when a story is told very close to reality which often reminds the audience of a real-life incidents, which might cause conflicts.

This film is completely fictional so ideally there is no need for such a disclaimer. In fact, if it was everything fictional, I would not have any problem with it.  But the film uses places like Delhi, Agra, Vishakhapatnam, historical figures such as Lala Lajpat Rai, Nizam and communities, nationalities such as Gonds, Indians, British, I wonder if these are fictional as well.

For the past twenty-thirty years our schools, colleges, newspapers and media have been completely emptied of history, social sciences and humanities. And because we see film stars day in and day out on television, and film stars are our nation’s leaders, it seems like the film director strongly believes that he can show anything with two stars and call it history. But my biggest problem is that these people use identities, communities, movements and popular leaders who have a very strong presence in the people’s psyche in their film. For example, in this film to introduce the valour of the protagonist, they tell us that Lala Lajpat Rai was arrested in Kolkata. Lala Lajpat Rai was Punjab Kesari, he was never arrested in Kolkata. He was gravely injured by the British in the peaceful protest against Simon Commission and he passed away due to the injuries; the figure of Bhagat Singh was born in response to this, this is history. But unfortunately, the writer of this film seems to have heard of Lala Lajpat Rai sometime and decided to use the name. Because of Rai in his name, the writer assumed he is a Bengali. But unfortunately, this will become history now. The Wikipedia entry on Lala Lajpat Rai already has a reference to the film.

The heart-breaking aspect of this film for me was the reference to Gonds. The film shows a village in a forest, and some people and tells us that this is a village in Adilabad Jungle and these are Gonds. Do you know who Gonds are? Have you ever seen them? Do you know how their villages look? If you had called it Mahishmatipuram and called them as Kalakeya tribe like you did in Bahubali, I would not have any problem with it. But Gonds were the rulers of central India ruling over Adilabad, North East Maharashtra, South West Madhya Pradesh. They defied tyrannical rulers from Mughals to the Nizam and are inheritors of a courageous and rich cultural tradition. And you have represented them as subhuman beings, should I consider this ignorance or arrogance? Dear Sardar Harpal Singh (Photographer who has documented the Gond way of life), could you not share the link of photographs of Gonds, their festivals, villages from your social media, with the director?

Gond men wear panche (dhoti) and white shirt and wear a turban, there is a lot of self-respect in their attire and comportment. I have never heard any Gond utter nee banchan (a marker of submission). And you are showing such Gonds as half clad, if you did not know how Gonds look, why could you not have called them by some other name?

Ignorance can be forgiven, arrogance cannot be. If it is fictional, why did we see the images of nationalist leaders of Bose, Patel, Bhagat Singh at the end of the film? One of the saddest aspects of the film is that you included Shivaji among them. You might have decided to include Shivaji’s name as it is being uttered a lot these days and you wanted to be on the safe side. Or perhaps like the disclaimer at the beginning, these names of Bose, Patel, Kittur Rani Chennamma are all names which resemble real life names but are just fictional.

In Gurajada’s (a modernist Telugu writer) Kanyashulkam, Ramappa Pantulu exclaims “Oh these days Girisham is peddling English also”, while reading his letter, satirically pointing to how the Girisham figure uses English to his advantage. Even this film, the director has peddled a lot of English and Britishers. It will be a full essay in its own right, if we start discussing how little the director knows about the British.

Once upon a time the revolutionary poet Sri Sri (Srirangam Srinivasa Rao) called a particular magazine, the offspring of capital and fiction. This film is a poisonous offspring of capital and baseless fiction. This film an epitome of arrogance that even if you don’t know history, anthropology, sociology or even if you don’t need news; if you have money and are able to get dates of a couple of star heroes, hire four computer graphics professionals, you can make anything and people will watch it. This film is based on nothing but the premise to recover the entire investment for the film with first week collections by using the names of Komaram Bheem and Alluri Seetarama Raju, two historical figures martyred in 1940 and 1924 respectively, who are in circulation these days (there are even district names on them in the two Telugu states). 

There is also another disclaimer in the beginning of the film, no animals have actually been harmed in making of the film. After watching the film, I realised the most innocent animal in the contemporary times is history. Sire, I’m not sure if you have harmed any animals but you have butchered history. Like we have laws from prevention of cruelty to animals and animal welfare unless we have some laws to safeguard history, perhaps this violence will not stop.


About the Author and Translator

* Vadrevu China Veerabhadrudu is a Telugu writer, poet and translator.

* C. Yamini Krishna is a film scholar, she currently teaches at the FLAME University.


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