SS Rajamouli’s RRR is many things at once. By now, it is public knowledge. But by turning a freedom fighter into an embodiment of Ram and turning a Gond leader into a subservient Hindu, it can also be argued that RRR acts as a cultural reset of sorts.
In Rajamouli’s defence, the filmmaker made it clear from the start that RRR is a fictional tale that just takes loose inspiration from its central historical figures. This creative liberty becomes a justification for the Baahubali money-maker to turn these personalities into indestructible heroes, and even “saffronised” brothers-in-arms.
When they are not busy performing high-octane stunts and playing with suspenders on Naatu Naatu, Ram Charan and Junior NTR play the parts of Alluri Sitaram Raju and Komaram Bheem, two Indian revolutionaries who fought against the British in the early 20th century. Given the film’s global popularity, it only makes sense to know the actual history behind these forgotten heroes.
Even though Raju didn’t hail from an Adivasi background and belonged to the Telugu Kshatriya upper-caste, he led factions of Adivasi forest inhabitants and farmers in guerrilla campaigns against the British. Komaram Bheem, on the other hand, hailed from the Gond tribe and led rebellions against the British as well as the Nizams of Hyderabad.
As the 1920s haven’t been explored much in their lives, Rajamouli wished to showcase a friendship that could have emerged during this period. And as he clearly wished to weave a fictional narrative, it seems fair for him to accept the fact wholeheartedly and not market RRR as some true-to-the-facts biopic.
It makes for an interesting ‘What If’ moment in Indian history albeit giving Rajamouli way more creative freedom to underplay the politics behind Raju and Bheem’s actions and rather aligning them with more modern-day Hindu iconography and idealism.
What’s questionable is Rajamouli’s gaze at Raju (referred to as Ram for most of the film) and Bheem. While both heroes possess physical strength, it is Ram who is shown as brainier. Throughout the film’s three-hour-long runtime, Bheem is mostly depicted as a simpleton forest-dweller in comparison to the strategic, patient, and order-barking Ram.
In fact, the very ending scene finds Ram thanking his fellow testosterone-pumping “dudebro” for his help and asking him how he can repay the favour. To this, Bheem just joins his hands and asks Ram to "educate" his people. This imposition of the "saviour complex" on Ram (a brainy Kshatriya) over Bheem (a brawny tribal) seems quite clear over here.
Some can argue that Rajamouli has still improved since his Baahubali days in which he depicted antagonistic warrior tribes as people with extremely darkened skin tone, and intentionally grotesque physical features, men who spoke in a language of “click” sounds. In comparison, Bheem does have his moments to shine (and so does NTR’s oiled-up upper torso) but maybe, Rajamouli could have done better in portraying both of his heroes as equals.
Even the mythological allegories that the writer/director aims for pits the Gond tribal Bheem as subservient to Ram. Carrying Ram on his shoulders and idolising him as an elder brother, Bheem is the perfect alternative to a colonial-era Hanuman. And Ram Charan's Ram is obviously...Ram. He is so Ram that even his love interest is christened Seetha!
If these undertones aren't clear enough, the third act finds Ram literally "cosplaying" as the deity, complete with saffron robes and the bow and arrow as his weapon of choice. What also needs to be considered is the scene preceding this makeover.
With Ram injured and losing blood, Bheem takes him to a forest where he finds a temple in the middle of nowhere. Desperate to save his dying friend, Bheem joins his hands yet again and tearfully prays to the statue of Ram. The metamorphosis of Komaram Bheem from an Adivasi leader (many Adivasis having their own local deities that eventually got accommodated under a common Hindu umbrella) to a Ram-worshipping Hindu is complete.
Finally, it can be argued that RRR breaks away from the usual cinematic depictions of the freedom struggle. Alluri Sitaram Raju and Komaran Bheem are both freedom fighters who deserve more space in the pages of history books. If Rajamouli's intention was to popularise their lore to a wider audience, maybe he has achieved his goal. But with many people's introduction to this lore being a distorted one, has he really achieved the goal?