Director SS Rajamouli’s latest blockbuster RRR, starring Telugu actors Ram Charan and Jr NTR, was considered not “Oscar-worthy” by the Film Federation of India. The federation picked director Pan Nalin’s Chhello Show (Last Film Show) as India’s official entry for the Best International Feature Film category at the 95th Academy Awards. And FFI’s choice has sparked a debate about the Oscar-worthiness of a film.
Should a film be more serious, less commercial and appeal to the most intelligent of movie audiences for it to be deemed worthy of an award? Or can a three-hour-long spectacle that pushes the edges of believability, and appeals to all kinds of audiences, in addition to reviving the waning fortunes of box office, be worthy of such recognition?
It seems it’s all a matter of perception. According to the wisdom of FFI members, the popularity of a film should not be the criteria to be the country’s Oscar contender. And those who have followed the workings of the Academy Awards for years beg to differ. “I think when it comes to Academy Awards or any major awards here (the USA), popularity has something to do with it. Black Panther was nominated for an Oscar. Mad Max: Fury Road was nominated for an Oscar. The road for popular films to winning Academy Awards is not unknown,” said J Hurtado, a film critic, who is also part of the team that’s running RRR’s theatre campaign in the US.
RRR didn’t capture the interest of the native American audience when it was released there first. The film’s main target was the Indian diaspora. RRR also faced competition from Yash’s KGF: Chapter 2 at the American box office. Many theatres replaced RRR with KGF 2 thinking that Rajamouli’s period drama has run its course at the box office. But, they were so wrong.
RRR started making the right noises when a handful of dedicated fans, including Hurtado, re-released the film in theatres under the program #encoRRRe, which was intended to give the audience the last chance to watch the movie on a big screen. It was the time when the western audience had just discovered RRR on Netflix and started talking about it. The #encoRRR was a huge hit, generating a lot of positive reactions from the non-Indian audience. And three months later, RRR is still running in theatres in the USA, even as it’s widely available on various streaming platforms.
The supporters of RRR argue that the film’s ability to transcend expectations and capture the imagination of the global audience is what makes it such a strong contender for the Oscars. “India’s selection for Oscars has a very dicey history. If it were me, the idea would be to send out a film that has the best chance of getting a nomination and winning the award. That seems the way to go forward for any country, not just India. The whole point of that Best International Feature Film is to highlight a country’s best output,” opined Hurtado.
It’s safe to say that RRR not becoming the country’s official selection for Oscars could be the best thing that happened to the film. The FFI’s decision made international headlines with many members of the Hollywood fraternity and film critics sharply reacting to the incident. “It has lit a fire under some people to not let it (RRR) be forgotten. This ground swell of support has happened. People are talking about. The team didn’t go out to these high-profile names and pushed the film on them,” said Hurtado.
Hollywood filmmaker Adam McKay of Don’t Look Up fame called FFI’s RRR snub a “travesty” while pledging support to promote the film further. There is no other movie except for RRR in the last 20 years that has enjoyed such passionate support from the ground up in the US during an award season.
“I feel this film is incredibly sincere, and it foregrounds a lot of things that American films lack or are scared to put in the foreground. Even our big comic book movies, at this point, have become fairly formula-esque. You know where the story is going and you know the characters are aware of the fact that they are in a film. They may not be winking directly at the camera but there are lots of winks to the audience throughout the film. That’s something which the RRR doesn’t do. It’s very focused on the story it’s telling. The story is very simple, the characters are very driven. The action is over the top, but it never seems extraneous to the plot. It’s very well designed in a way that the American audience appreciates because we don’t get that very often,” explained Hurtado.
Hurtado revealed that the Oscar campaign for RRR is planned around getting as many people as possible to watch the film on the biggest screen possible. “Right now, our focus is getting voters to see the film as Rajamouli intended it on the big screen. I do think this film benefits from the vibe an audience gives it — but it is great wherever you see it,” said Variance Films president Dylan Marchetti, who is backing the film’s Oscar campaign.
RRR will be submitted to the Oscars in all popular categories including Best Pictures and Best Original Score.