CHENNAI: SS Rajamouli — with his unstoppable RRR — has catapulted Telugu cinema to a global pedestal and the American awards season continues to reward the epic historical fiction handsomely. In addition to being named one of the year’s 10 best films by America’s National Board of Review, the awards bagged by the film so far include Best Director at New York Film Critics Circle, Best International Film at Saturn Awards, Spotlight Award by the Hollywood Critics Association and Best Music from Los Angeles Film Critics Association, to name some.
The latest and biggest win came at the Golden Globe Awards where the song, Naatu Naatu, won the Best Original Song award over compositions by the likes of Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift.
The MM Keeravani composition has transformed from an instant chartbuster that took the internet by storm in November 2021 — inspiring hundreds of thousands of reels — to a Golden Globe win last week, and this is as much a team effort as they come. While Chandrabose’s earthy lyrics beautifully celebrated and encouraged us to see the beauty in ‘our’ way of life — from the food to the terrain — singers Kaala Bhairava and Rahul Sipligunj brought the lyrics to life with rare vocal energy. Finally, the lead actors, Jr NTR and Ram Charan, the faces of the film, elevated this energy multifold. But it all emerged from the vision of one man: SS Rajamouli, whose cinematic spell is bewitching global audiences now.
Last week at the TCL Chinese IMAX in Los Angeles, where 932 seats were sold out in 98 seconds for a RRR screening, patrons rushed to the front of the 97 feet-wide screen to dance for Naatu Naatu. This is a culture commonly observed in India but RRR’s ability to instigate such passion across the world is a result of SS Rajamouli’s ability to make audiences feel rare euphoria. Crowd-pleasing, after all, has always been this filmmaker’s strength.
SS Rajamouli has always been vocal about his modus operandi. His filmmaking style is driven by a strong desire to methodically understand audience reactions, second by second, minute by minute. A protege of veteran filmmaker K Raghavendra Rao, a filmmaker often credited for popularising the tropes of ‘masala’ cinema in Telugu, Rajamouli has so far managed to do what many of his seniors and contemporaries faltered at. From his first film, Student No 1 (2001) to his latest, RRR, Rajamoulis’s journey, like his films, have been growing in stature and scope.
After consecutively delivering five successful films between 2001 to 2006, one can begin to chart SS Rajamouli’s growing ambition from Yama Donga (2007) which marked his first tryst with excessive VFX and grand sets. He took his vision a step further with Magadheera (2009). With Eega in 2012, we saw the clearest glimpse of his ambition and a tremendous example of his ability to make us root for anyone — even a housefly. This film marked the completion of Rajamouli’s metamorphosis into a fully mature visual storyteller who began wielding emotion to do his bidding.
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His next labour of love, the Baahubali duology, reflected his mastery and forever changed Telugu cinema and how the business prospects of South Indian films were viewed. Had he peaked with the Baahubali films? How could he deliver something as superlative once again? Just like his films keep raising the stakes, his latest film, RRR, didn’t just deliver on national fame, but it’s gone another step and now, familiarised a global audience with the pleasures of Telugu cinema.
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The nominees under the Best Director category of the 28th Annual Critics Choice Awards, alongside SS Rajamouli, include two legendary filmmakers who shaped modern cinema: Steven Speilberg and James Cameron. Filmmakers so far have only dreamed of having their names mentioned alongside these stalwarts. Now, it is a reality. Perhaps tomorrow, it will become a goal — and they would have one man to thank for making dreams tangible: SS Rajamouli. The past week, in particular, has been rewarding for Rajamouli and his team.