ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Crowd Conjuring: The Visual Politics of Gathering in RRR


Nair Kartik - Temple University, Film and Media Arts, Philadelphia, United States


49 – Public Knowledge: Audiences in South Asian Media and Screen Studies


 This paper explores the simulated crowd, focusing on fictional representations rendered using digital visual effects. Visual effects create crowds by algorithmically multiplying digital figures (known as agents) and by blending these digital figures with real performers (in profilmic space). Such crowds may be depicted onscreen as emerging spontaneously in response to spectacular story events; of course, they themselves are spectacular emblems (Whissel 2014). As such, digital crowds provide a unique opportunity to see how latent ideas about “the public” become images: in this case, how a visual ideology of the crowd is shared, and shaped, between a film’s director, VFX supervisors, cinematographers, extras, and digital effects artists.

This paper will focus on the Telugu blockbuster RRR (S.S. Rajamouli, 2022), and its evocation of two diegetic publics: an Indian public agitating in protest, and a British public shimmying to a song. These crowds are the same: in how they were created during the film’s production, as well as in who they cue during the film’s circulation, namely the film’s audience. Yet, these conjured masses differently materialize the affective energies congealed in the crowd imaginary, revealing how the public is unevenly articulated in racial, gendered, and classed hierarchies as dusty mob or elegant gathering. Through a close analysis of the film’s crowd-conjuring, this paper tracks the persistence of imperial imaginaries in visual technologies.