RRR is a warning, if you needed one, against white people with good intentions. It’s an undeniably fun action movie — one gigantic set piece on top of another on top of another, with each piece epic enough to be the climax of another, smaller movie, interspersed with songs and dance numbers and dudes punching walls in stupefyingly over-the-top James-Cameron-via-Roland-Emmerich abundance — and, because it’s an Indian movie in which the villains are white British colonizers, it allowed a certain sort of American to feel like they were doing something smarter than just watching an action movie. Something political. Radical, maybe.
Which is to say: RRR got a reputation as a progressive movie; a de-colonial movie; a movie that centered what we Americans call “people of color.” But it got that reputation almost entirely from American viewers. To Indian viewers, RRR is a right-wing movie: It’s Hindu nationalist propaganda, in which a high-caste Hindu man teaches ignorant “tribals” (and Muslims, barely mentioned) to reject outside cultural influences and gain military strength by claiming a true, pure, undiluted Hindu identity.
Hindu nationalism rubs elbows with fascism; it preaches both national identity through religious homogeneity (a problem for a nation with 1.4 billion people and at least nine major religions) and strict adherence to the caste system. RRR’s director, S.S. Rajamouli, has been open about his politics, and about the fact that his movie’s grueling awesomeness and brain-melting spectacle is meant to pummel the viewer into a patriotic response: One of Rajamouli’s major influences was D.W. Griffiths’ The Birth of a Nation, the epic that exalts the founding of the Ku Klux Klan.
Once you have this context, the movie’s politics are obvious. RRR ends with the two leads whipping a flag around and singing a cheerful song about how their glorious banner is worthy of any sacrifice; if that sequence had featured the Stars and Stripes and a few bald eagles, the leftists raving about RRR would no doubt see it for what it is. It doesn’t, though, so we don’t. We praise the movie based on what we think we know — British colonialism was deeply unjust and oppressive; anger toward colonizers is legitimate — revealing ourselves as ignorant and condescending at the very moment we most want to seem like global sophisticates.
There’s danger in evaluating things purely in terms of what they say about you. You can get so caught up on signifying yourself through what you consume that you forget to engage with the things themselves. What I am trying to prove, here, is not that RRR is a bad movie, or that you're a bad person for liking it – I, too, loved it until I did a little Googling – but simply to say that our expectations shape our experiences. The movie you expect to see is often the movie you will see, and those expectations can be very wrong.