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How SS Rajamouli is filling the canvas of Bhartiya cinema with civilisational beauty

RRR has also intensified the penchant to learn about lesser-known national heroes after Rajamouli picked relatively obscure historical figures to weave a patriotic tale of grit and gumption even as he paid a handsome tribute to everything gloriously Hindu.

In 2005’s Chatrapathi, the Telugu action drama that catapulted Prabhas to superstardom, music director MM Keeravani’s Agni Skalana almost became an anthem signifying the scuffle between dharma and adharma. The song soared in the background every time Shiva fought against evil to protect his people in the port of Vizag. Weaving a tale of the oppressed finding a leader to save them from the oppressor even as he takes the law into his hands, SS Rajamouli’s audience got a hero who didn’t shy away from the tandaav while restoring balance on his land.

The Sanskrit lyrics coupled with catchy beats amplified the resonance with Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj establishing a Rashtra that is as much Hindu as it is free from brutality and injustice. Anyone who has been following the creative graph of Rajamouli cannot deny the inclusion of thoroughly Hindu symbolism in his works from the beginning. ‘Rise, Roar, Revolt’, his latest money-spinner continues with the narrative thus becoming another glorious feather to that artistic bent.

Still from Baahubali

Heavily influenced by Bharatiya itihaasa, Ramayana and Mahabharata, the director, known for his larger-than-life cinema, has been steadily building his filmography that borrows concepts, ideologies and philosophies from not just those Indian epics but also from our ancient Sanatani texts and scriptures. Except for an oddball ‘Sye’, the sports action drama where Hindus were painted in a sordid light compared to others, Rajamouli’s art has quite regularly stood out for flaunting the Hindu identity emphatically.

If Chatrapathi played on the imagery of the Maratha warrior vanquishing villains, Magadheera, Baahubali and RRR’s good triumphing over evil liberally use Indic iconographies giving the silent majority in the country a reason to cheer and derive confidence from our forgotten icons and their heroic past. 

Nationalism wrapped in Hindu Iconography

While Telugu cinema largely carried a pro-India narrative always, it is with Baahubali and RRR that the focus magnified on celebrating quintessential Hindu vocabulary. The thundering box office collections prove that India is thirsty for movies diametrically different from the anti-Hindu diatribe Hindi filmmakers have churned out till now.

RRR has also intensified the penchant to learn about lesser-known national heroes after Rajamouli picked relatively obscure historical figures to weave a patriotic tale of grit and gumption even as he paid a handsome tribute to everything gloriously Hindu. While Magadheera’s gallant warrior Kumarabhairav traversed births to unite with his lover, Baahubali’s lead avenged his father’s death to become the king of Mahishmati, RRR’s Alluri Rama Raju and Komaran Bheem take on British cruelty with unstinted bravura.

The montages in the movies hark to the age of intrepid Hindu legends winning wars for their motherland and the honour of their women.  

Stills from Magadheera, Baahubali, RRR

An Ode to Forgotten Heroes

RRR’s protagonists are inspired by Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem, two revolutionaries from the Gond tribe our NCERT texts never featured. Ram Charan dons the role of Sitarama Raju who led the Rampa Rebellion (1922-24) against the Madras Forest Act, which prevented the free movement of tribals in the forests and impacted their livelihoods.

Under his leadership, the tribes fought a gruesome guerilla war by attacking British armouries and police stations. Komaram Bheem, played by NT Rama Rao Jr, led a rebellion against the feudal Nizams of Hyderabad and the British Raj in the eastern part of the princely state during the 1930s which culminated in the Telangana Rebellion of 1946.

Rajamouli, despite taking vast creative liberties, doesn’t shift from the patriotic goalpost. While Baahubali’s theatrics painted a magnificent picture of our ancient Indian kings, his latest historical fiction unifies the leads using strength and strategy as catalysts. 

Imagery laced with Sanatani Concepts

The infusion of Indic heritage, itihaasa and Sanatan concepts is directed at making the Indian audience feel proud of their illustrious past. Remember a strapping Prabhas carrying the Shivalinga on his shoulders in Baahubali-The Beginning? Or the climactic fight sequence where Mahendra Baahubali sprays holy ash on his wounds as his blood trickles down the marble Shivalinga?

In RRR, too, the makers harp on such imagery as well the Panchabhoota. In the climactic sequence, Alluri Ramaraju appears as if Shri Ram is training his arrow at the enemy. Komaram Bheem shoots his spears at the soldiers as if one would do with a Trishul.

Still from RRR

Refer to the scene where Mahendra’s darting spear smashes that of Bhallaladeva’s during their fierce fight. These are not just remarkable glorification of our Sanatan heroes and their heroism but also Rajamouli recreating famous battle sequences from Ramayana and Mahabharata. 

In one of the posters of RRR, Alluri shows Bheem how to train a gun, taking us back to the image of Shri Krishna directing Arjun in the art of warfare. Then there is Bheem apologizing to the tranquillized tiger referring to the Hindu sentiment of treating animals with compassion.

That Sanatani traditions have always shared beautiful conjunction with nature is also impressed on when Amarendra Baahubali spares sacrificing a buffalo before the battle with Kalakeya. Note here that war ensues, in both Magadheera and Baahubali, only after due respect is paid to giant Hindu deities.  

Creating Sounds of Pride

Rounding off on a musical note, Keeravani’s symphony for Baahubali and RRR combined Indian classical, modern rock strains with Sanskrit lyrics. While Magadheera and the former featured romantic ballads (when Devasena croons Kannaa Nidurinchara that lulls Baahubali to sleep, it not only invokes reverence but also suggests a sweet, playful dalliance between Radha and Krishna), too, RRR’s music is heady with nationalistic fervour with the compositions Komaram Bheemudu and Janani carrying a strong patriotic undercurrent.

Ramam Raghavam on the other hand elevates the character of Alluri to a spiritual level even as the music video has young musicians in saffron attires and nakshatra beads. Courage seems to thematically wash over the track accompanied by the hue of fire. Can it get more Hindu than that? 

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Sharmi Adhikary
Sharmi Adhikary
Senior Lifestyle Journalist and Film Writer with a yen for films that spark interesting conversations.

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