Russo brothers and RRR director S.S. Rajamouli on the 'universal language' of blowing stuff up

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·4 min read
Russo brothers and RRR director S.S. Rajamouli on the 'universal language' of blowing stuff up
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When it comes to bridging the cinematic gap between East and West, no genre has seen more recent success than action — the bigger, crazier, and wilder the spectacle, the better.

The minds behind the latest examples of this trend, the Russo brothers and India's S.S. Rajamouli, directors of action-packed extravaganzas The Gray Man and RRR, respectively, sat down together to pay homage to the genre they love and explore what draws people around the world to their work.

For Rajamouli, watching RRR become the most popular film from India on Netflix — viewed for over 47 million hours worldwide and subtitled into 15 different languages — was as gratifying as it was unexpected. "Yes, I was surprised with the reception from the West," says the director, who appeared virtually for the Netflix-arranged conversation, which you can see exclusively above. "A good story is a good story for everyone, but I didn't think I could make films for Western sensibilities. I never believed myself. So when it came out on Netflix and people started watching it, and word of mouth started spreading, when the critics started giving out good reviews, yes I was really, really surprised."

Already the second highest-grossing film in India, RRR became one of the country's rare crossover hits in the West when it arrived on Netflix, ultimately earning nearly 89 percent of its roughly $100 million worldwide sales from international box offices. And while The Gray Man's success might have been easier to predict given its star-studded cast (Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans) and famous directors (Anthony Russo and Joe Russo), who became household names thanks to their work on four Marvel films, its debut as the No. 1 movie in 92 countries is further evidence of the action genre's global appeal. It's also a sign that the Russo brothers' efforts to appeal to a worldwide audience are paying off.

"We look for universal truths, and I think it is a primary goal of ours," says Joe of keeping a diverse viewership in mind. "In fact, I would say the primary goal is to use storytelling as a binding element to bring people together. That's why we have a global perspective."

THE GRAY MAN RRR (2022) N.T. Rama Rao Jr. in RRR (2022)
THE GRAY MAN RRR (2022) N.T. Rama Rao Jr. in RRR (2022)

Netflix; Raftar Creations 'The Gray Man' and 'RRR'

While all three directors believe films should be grounded in emotion, which Rajamouli calls "the basement on which you can build this huge spectacle," they also agree that action is the most widely appealing genre to wrap their stories around. "Action is a universal language," says Joe. "It's about geography, choreography. It can be told without words. So I do think in a lot of ways that it's the most transcendent genre, the most universal genre, one that most everyone in the world can follow. We all understand action and movement."

From surprise hit imports like Squid Game to global box office smashing blockbusters like Top Gun: Maverick, the action genre's diverse appeal is something Anthony says has only increased in recent years. "I think you've seen that over the past decade or so, there's been a large movement in terms of the global audience, and it's largely due to the internet... that's created more of a global audience and global sensibility."

Compared to the appeal of a genre like comedy, which language barriers can limit, fight scenes and car chases are easy for everyone to understand. "I think you've seen over the past decade [that] action films have become more popular and sort of things like comedy, sometimes things that are specific to cultural sensitivities or understandings... they haven't been as popular as they once were. And I think that speaks to the fact that action is a language that connects the global audience in a strong way."

As much as the trio enjoys blowing up sets and blowing through budgets — RRR is the most expensive Indian film ever at $69 million, while The Gray Man cost a cool $200 million to make — their conversation kept coming back to the importance of emotionally grounded characters. While RRR tells a fictional story about two real-life Indian revolutionaries and their fight against the British Raj, at its heart, the film is a moving tale of friendship. And while The Gray Man is a globetrotting spy thriller featuring big names like Gosling and Evans, it's Gosling's character's connection to his father figure boss (Billy Bob Thorton) and his sick niece that drives the narrative.

"What I think is so amazing about [RRR] is the emotion it evokes, combined with the spectacle," explains Joe. "And I would say in five years, [digital distribution] has probably done more for diversity and access to diverse and international films than Hollywood has done in 50 years."

Watch the full interview between the Russo brother and Rajamouli at the top, and check out some action-packed clips from both films above. The Gray Man and RRR are both out now on Netflix.

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