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The dance-off is a riveting, time-honored combat scenario — and no more so than in the exhilarating “Naatu Naatu” (“spice”) extravaganza in the Indian Telugu-language blockbuster RRR. In director S.S. Rajamouli’s 1920s-set action drama epic, the musical number pits the lead duo, Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan) and Komaram Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.) — based on real-life anti-colonialist revolutionaries — against an army of smug British colonizers.
The battle kicks off after the pair — still unaware of each other’s true identities and intentions — embark on another classic movie theme: a pure bromance, with Raju helping his new best friend impress a love interest, the governor’s niece Jenny (Olivia Morris). After Bheem, still outfitted in his Muslim shalwar kameez disguise, accepts her invitation to an afternoon dance at the Gymkhana Club, Raju graciously offers one of his suits. After all, as a member of the Indian Imperial Police, albeit undercover, Raju is accustomed to British dress codes.
Clad in double-breasted, slim-cut jackets and high-waist, pleated trousers, the outsiders make their requisite slow-walk into the fete. “You look amazing in your suit,” says Jenny, fawning over Bheem, as she ignores smarmy self-proclaimed “best dancer,” Jake (Eduard Buhac). Bheem, in a ’20s on-trend windowpane plaid, remains the dapper focal point, while Raju plays wingman in a smooth coffee hue.
With their superhero physiques, the pair’s tailored suiting feels forward-thinking and revolutionary (pun intended) compared to the British men’s more traditional three-piece suits and tuxedo tails. But costume designer Rama Rajamouli emphasizes that she maintained period authenticity, which she found to be the biggest challenge — especially after her last two collaborations with the director (also her spouse) in the fantasy genre.
Pulling off the pivotal dance sequence was no small feat, requiring a team of 12 arriving four days before the approximate 16-day shoot in Kiev. Rajamouli estimates they custom-made “between 120 and 140” ball gowns in India, while purchasing and altering around 100 in Kiev for background. The ladies’ pastel palette, in a limited range of hues, reflects British women’s fashion in India at the time.
For each hero, Rajamouli custom-designed six suits in a breathable, non-wrinkle cotton French terry. Choreographer Prem Rakshith even built the dance around Rajamouli’s costuming. The “just standing and talking” scenes required tailored-to-fit ensembles, “so that they look good,” says the costume designer. Roomier suits then allowed for the high-octane dance carnage, which filtered down to Raju versus Bheem, with the former faking a leg cramp to, again, help his besotted friend win Jenny’s heart — and the contest.
This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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