A film with James Cameron’s action sensibility and George Miller’s ambitious scope has to be considered a definite Oscar contender, right? Not without the proper support of a studio, or in this case a country, submitting your film for the Academy’s Best International Feature Film Award.
Enter “RRR‘, a film by SS Rajamouli who co-wrote the screenplay with V. Vijayendra Prasad. The three-hour action-epic follows two patriotic but philosophically opposed men (Ram Charan and NT Rama Rao Jr.) who team up to rescue a girl from British colonial officials in 1920s Delhi.
When the 94th Oscar nominations were announced in January 2022, India‘s official submission “Pebbles” was not among the films recognized for International Feature Film. It has been exactly 20 years since India’s last nomination in this category.
In fact, only three Indian films in total – ‘Mother India’ (1957), ‘Salaam Bombay!’ (1988) and ‘Lagaan’ (2001) – were nominated for the award. The last lost against “No Man’s Land” from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The runaway success of “RRR” was the undercover Cinderella story of the year. The film was a worldwide hit with huge box office receipts and found a way into the American cultural zeitgeist that consumers discovered on Netflix. It was theatrically distributed in the US by Variance Films, and a recent trend for the Academy to include non-English language features in recent years offers an alternative route to recognition of awards if India decides to look elsewhere. But why should they?
At ₹240 crore ($30 million) worldwide on day one, “RRR” broke the record for the largest opening day earned by an Indian film overall. In recent times, no Indian production has made such an impact, nor has it achieved a cultural crossover. It could be a slam-dunk candidate even if Cannes sensations like “Decision to Leave” are already in the mix, or an expected contender like “Bardo,” a likely Mexico entry.
But, as with many international feature film submission processes, politics plays a crucial role in what is ultimately offered to AMPAS members.
Spoken in the Telugu language, most of India’s 50 filings over the decades have been in Hindi. A Hindi version created for the Bollywood market was released on Netflix in May, making the service shine and making the top 10 most watched titles.
It’s worth noting that we’ve walked this path with India before, having an easy and accessible film in front of them and choosing the less traveled path. A glaring example is the failure to submit an apparent “slam dunk” contestant, “The Lunchbox” (2013).
Some expect India to choose a safer bet for its submission, such as The Kashmir Files, a Hindi-language drama film written and directed by Vivek Agnihotri. No official word has been given on which direction the Film Federation of India is leaning.
Interestingly, how could the committee ignore a film like ‘RRR’, which was made on a budget of ₹550 crore ($72 million) and is considered the most expensive Indian film of all time? India’s film market is huge and Bollywood spawns countless productions every year. Lobbying to become the official film is loud and robust.
Could ‘RRR’ be a bigger contender than just an international feature film? Movies like City of God (2003) broke through their respective year for Best Director, and if enough Academy members are forced to give the three-hour flick a shot, it can garner extra love in artisanal categories.
Parasite (2019) garnered more than enough acclaim to become the first non-English Oscar winner for best picture, while Drive My Car, a small three-hour drama from an even smaller distributor (Janus Films), won its Weg found main categories with little to no campaign. But that’s the exception, not the rule.
India and the film’s producers need to provide financial capital for his campaign to have at least a chance of being included in the shortlist of 15 international feature films to be announced in December.
Even if India does not select him, he can still be submitted in all other general categories including best film and best director.
As Komaram Bheem, Rao’s performance as the Gond tribal chief of Telangana has set social media and Indian media ablaze. The 39-year-old actor and television star, affectionately known to his fans as NTR Jr., is one of the highest paid actors in Telugu cinema.
With someone like Tom Cruise likely already playing the action star angle for an acting noun on Top Gun: Maverick, Rao will need additional qualities to excel on the racetrack.
Can “RRR” break through with the academy? Let’s get through this fall celebration and hope they make a sensible decision.
The film is produced by DVV Danayya of DVV Entertainment.