S. S. Rajamouli, the guest on this episode of The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast, is a filmmaker from India whose consistent track record of massive critical and commercial success in Telugu-language cinema might lead one to call him the James Cameron of Tollywood.
Described by The New Yorker as “an artist of distinctive temperament and talent,” by the New York Times as a filmmaker with “a knack for maximalist action and imaginative set pieces, many of which are built around dynamic special effects and choreography” and by the Los Angeles Times as “a master of spectacle” and “one of his country’s preeminent powerhouse filmmakers,” he is the winner of three National Film Awards, India’s equivalent of the Oscars, and is the highest-paid director in India — not least because three of his films are among the five highest-grossing in the history of Indian cinema, each of which, when made, was also the most expensive Indian film ever: 2015’s Baahubali: The Beginning, 2017’s Baahubali 2: The Conclusion and 2022’s RRR.
RRR, Rajamouli’s 12th feature, is a period-piece musical that’s also an action movie, a romance and a thriller. And the film is his biggest international success yet. On a budget of $72 million, it raked in $175 million at the global box office, making it the third highest grossing film of all time in India and the fourth highest grossing Indian film around the world — and it has reached untold numbers of additional people via Netflix, resulting in the likes of the brothers Anthony Russo and Joseph Russo, James Gunn, Sam Raimi and Jason Blum becoming vocal fans of the film and its showstopping “Naatu Naatu” song and dance number.
U.S.-based awards groups have also embraced it to a greater extent than any other Indian film. The National Board of Review chose it as one of 2022’s top 10 films. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association awarded it best music/score, while the New York Film Critics Circle selected Rajamouli as the year’s best director. The film was nominated for the best foreign language film and best original song Golden Globe awards, winning the latter, and the Critics Choice Association nominated it for best picture, best director, best foreign language film and best original song Critics Choice Awards, the latter two of which it won.
RRR is now poised to make a dent in the Oscar nominations, too — not in the best international feature category, for which India shockingly passed it over, but quite possibly in the categories of best original song, for which “Naatu Naatu” is among 15 finalists, and perhaps best director and best picture too.
Over the course of a conversation at the Ross House in Mount Olympus, while a screening of RRR was taking place in an adjacent screening room, 49-year-old Rajamouli reflects on a range of topics.
He talks about what it was like for him growing up in a family of filmmakers who experienced sizable ups and downs and how he broke into the business and made a name for himself, not least by making films that were able to transcend India’s different regions, languages and cultures.
And he speaks about why, after making the highest-grossing film in India of all time, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, when he could have done just about anything, he next wanted to make a film that would pair two of India’s biggest stars in the roles of two of India’s biggest heroes in RRR.
And he reveals what he has made of the film’s best international feature Oscar snub at home and tremendous reception around the world.