Oscar predictions: Why India’s ‘RRR’ could ‘rise, roar and revolt’ despite no Best International Feature submission

Reportedly the most expensive movie ever made by the Indian film industry, “RRR” has become a worldwide sensation. Director S. S. Rajamouli transforms real-life revolutionaries Khomaram Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao, Jr.) and Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan) into superheroes for a historical epic that crosses “Hamilton”-style myth-making with action set pieces befitting a Zack Snyder production. The only Indian film that’s enjoyed greater stateside success is Rajamouli’s own “Baahubali 2: The Conclusion.” 

“RRR’s” fanbase, which seems to be getting bigger by the week, was dismayed when the Film Federation of India (FFI) announced it would be submitting “The Last Film Show” to the 95th Academy Awards for Best International Feature consideration. Outcry over the decision has gained “RRR” even more attention and made it India’s most formidable contender. 

SEE Critics Choice Awards nominations reactions: Cheers for ‘RRR’ love, jeers for ‘The Woman King’ snubs

The New York Film Critics Circle’s (NYFCC) bold move to award Rajamouli its directing prize was followed by nods from other groups (Chicago, Utah, and Los Angeles) and a breakthrough in Gold Derby’s Best Director top 10. The Telugu-language action-musical received five Critics Choice Film Awards nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Had FFI submitted “RRR,” India would’ve likely scored its first International Feature/Foreign Language Film nomination since 2002, when “Lagaan” lost to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s “No Man’s Land.” There’s a chance “RRR” would’ve even won. According to Metacritic’s year-end tally, the movie is currently leading in International Feature prizes (followed closely by “Decision to Leave”). 

It’s hard to tell whether passion for the film, no doubt stoked by its inability to compete in Best International Feature, will materialize a Best Picture nomination. Four experts seem to think it will, putting “RRR” in 13th place in Gold Derby’s combined Oscar odds. NYFCC recently spurred futile optimism for “First Cow” but also started “Drive My Car’s” journey to a nomination for the Academy Awards’ top prize. 

SEE 2023 Oscars: Best International Feature Predictions

Surprise nods in Best Director over the past few years for filmmakers like Paweł Pawlikowski (“Cold War”) and Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”) have led to annual speculation over who a given year’s international contender will be (granted, both “Cold War” and “Another Round” were nominated for Best International Feature). According to Gold Derby’s odds, Rajamouli is this cycle’s best bet. He’s currently ranked ninth, ahead of Park Chan-wook(“Decision to Leave”), Ruben Östlund (“Triangle of Sadness”), and Edward Berger (“All Quiet on the Western Front”). Should Rajamouli, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (“Everything Everywhere All At Once”), Baz Luhrmann (“Elvis”), and Damien Chazelle (“Babylon”) all get directing nods, it’ll be quite the banner year for visually ecstatic filmmaking. 

Even if the academy is less adventurous this season than some are predicting, “RRR” has a great shot of getting into, and winning, at least one category. “Naatu Naatu,” which plays over a vibrant dance number at a wedding that’s as decorous as the rest of the film, is the frontrunner in Gold Derby’s recently unveiled Best Song odds. There would certainly be a lot of excitement to see it performed live during the televised ceremony. “Naatu Naatu” is credited to M. M. Keeravani. 

SEE 2023 Oscars: Best Picture Predictions

“RRR” is so different from any other contender that it’s tricky to predict the course its awards trajectory will take. The film employs styles of filmmaking and storytelling that audiences unfamiliar with Tollywood and Bollywood pictures have likely never experienced before. A scene of zoological carnage unleashed during a palatial reception will leave the uninitiated viewer as slack-jawed as a five-year-old Sammy Fabelman seeing Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Greatest Show on Earth” for the first time. But that sense of wonder and discovery could work in the movie’s favor.

If “RRR” can break out in any year, it’s this one. After two seasons of scaled-down awards players, blockbuster epics are all the rage. Furthermore, “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” another zany action-comedy from 2022’s first half that blossomed into a bona fide pop culture phenomenon through word of mouth, has just become Gold Derby’s Best Picture frontrunner. A strong showing for “RRR” at the 95th Oscars will influence prediction models for years to come. 

PREDICT the 2023 Oscar nominees through January 24

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