Will RRR's historic winning streak lead to Oscar glory?

The South Indian epic drama has been picking up international recognition this awards season

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As film lovers around the world catch up to the irresistible appeal of RRR, the South Indian historical action-drama that's breaking new ground this awards season, for many fans in India, the global appreciation has been a long time coming.

The Telugu-language film has been breaking records since it was released in March last year. Directed by S S Rajamouli, and starring Telugu superstars N T Rama Rao Jr and Ram Charan in the lead, the film is a fictional take on two real-life revolutionaries in pre-independence India.

RRR is also one of the most expensive Indian films ever made, with a reported budget of 5.5 billion rupees ($67.6 million), although it's already collected more than 12 billion rupees ($147 million) at the global box office.

Dubbed and also released in Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada and other languages, it is now the second-highest-grossing Indian film of 2022 and currently the fourth-highest-grossing Indian film in history — although that is bound to change with its ever-growing international awards haul and Oscar buzz.

What is RRR all about?

Rao Jr and Charan play real-life Indian freedom fighters Komaram Bheem and Alluri Sitarama Raju — while the story itself is director Rajamouli and co-writer V Vijayendra Prasad's imagining of what it would have been like had the two revolutionaries been friends.

Set in 1920 during the British rule of India, Rao Jr's Bheem is a tribal leader who sets off to rescue a young girl abducted by an evil British officer. Warned of Bheem's plan, the officer's wife enlists Charan's Raju, a member of the Indian Imperial Police, to help diminish the threat.

Unknowingly, Bheem and Raju strike up a friendship, their common disdain for their colonial masters affirming their bond.

What follows is a tale of friendship, sacrifice, betrayal and vindication, all told with over-the-top action sequences, colourful songs and dances and plenty of slow-motion shots.

RRR, which stands for "Rise. Roar. Revolt" does exactly what it says on the tin — the oppressed standing up against their oppressors — told with a cinematic flourish that's never been seen before on the big screen.

Who's in RRR?

Alia Bhatt as Sita in RRR. Photo: DVV Entertainment

Rao Jr and Charan are massive stars in the south, working predominantly in Telugu films. Rao Jr comes from a film family, his grandfather being the late actor and politician N T Rama Rao, and Charan is the son of Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi.

Bollywood stars Ajay Devgn and Alia Bhatt also star, alongside Shriya Sharan, who's known for her work in South Indian as well as Hindi films. The cast also features a number of English actors, many of them playing the colonisers.

International awards for RRR

RRR has been winning a number of global awards, starting with the Golden Globes for Best Original Song earlier this month. Naatu Naatu, composed by M M Keeravani and performed by Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava, beat out tracks by singers Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Lady Gaga and French music composer Alexandre Desplat to the title, making it the first Indian song to ever win such an award.

At the Critics Choice Awards last week, Naatu Naatu again won Best Song as well as Best Foreign Language Film, boosting fans' hopes of the film earning a coveted Oscar nomination when the names are announced on January 24.

Could RRR get an Oscar nomination?

S S Rajamouli with the award for Best Foreign Language Film for RRR at the Critics Choice Awards. AFP

Fans of RRR were left disappointed in September when the Film Federation of India picked the Gujarati film Chhello Show(Last Film Show) as the country's entry to the Oscars for the Best International Feature category. Directed by Pan Nalin, the coming-of-age drama tells the story of a movie-mad boy who bribes his way into a decrepit theatre in a nearby village to watch films from the projection booth.

RRR was among 13 titles in contention from across India.

But the film's Oscar hopes were re-energised in early December when RRR was named as one of the year’s 10 best films by New York's National Board of Review, usually an early harbinger of the awards season. A week later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which organises the Oscars, released shortlists in various categories, which included Naatu Naatu among 15 tracks in contention for the Best Original Song.

Earlier this month, the academy also released a list of 301 films eligible for voting by its members, meaning RRR could make it to any of the 23 categories on Oscar night.

Rajamouli and his team have been on a promotional tour for the past few weeks, hoping to win over voting members. Priyanka Chopra joined them for a special screening on Wednesday.

"Least I can do to contribute to this incredible Indian film’s journey. Good luck and congratulations @RRRMovie," she posted on Twitter, with pictures from the event showing her with Rajamouli and composer Keeravani.

Nominations for the 95th Academy Awards will be announced on January 24 by actors Allison Williams and Riz Ahmed. The awards gala will be held on March 12 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

Updated: January 19, 2023, 11:40 AM