Twin Oscar wins for India: 'Naatu Naatu', 'The Elephant Whisperers' script history
“Naatu Naatu”, the irrepressible, fun number from the film “RRR”, and documentary short “The Elephant Whisperers” made Oscar history for India on Monday with one Academy Award each, the two wins showcasing cinema beyond Bollywood and the growing might of the Indian non-feature segment.
This is the first time two India-made productions have bagged the cinema world’s biggest prize. Dancers took over the stage at Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre, recreating the hugely popular hook steps from the four-minute Telugu track, and actor Deepika Padukone introduced the song to loud cheers.
It was not just a night for India. The 95th Academy Awards will also be remembered for recognising Asian talent with “Everything Everwhere All at Once” bagging seven awards, including Best Film, Best Director for Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, Best Actress for Malaysia’s Michelle Yeoh and Best Supporting Actor for Vietnamese American Ke Huy Quan.
“All That Breathes”, Shaunak Sen’s climate change documentary set in Delhi, lost out to Canada’s “Navalny” on Russian dissident leader Alexei Navalny in the Documentary Feature category.
The win for “Naatu Naatu”, “Naacho Naacho” in Hindi, composed by M M Keeravaani and penned by Chandrabose in S S Rajamouli’s blockbuster film, is the fourth non-English song to win an Oscar in the category and the first song in foreign language since “Jai Ho” in 2009 to bag the prize.
“Naatu Naatu” is as much a jubilant chorus as was “Jai Ho”, the foot-tapping number by A R Rahman and Gulzar from the British film "Slumdog Millionaire".
As news of the Oscar win came in, “Naatu Naatu” was the buzz term for the day.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and a host of showbiz celebs, including Rajinikanth and Shah Rukh Khan hailed the twin Oscar wins.
Congratulating the team for the prestigious honour, the prime minister said on Twitter, "Exceptional! The popularity of ‘Naatu Naatu’ is global. It will be a song that will be remembered for years to come... India is elated and proud. #Oscars." "Congratulations to @EarthSpectrum, @guneetm and the entire team of ‘The Elephant Whisperers’ for this honour. Their work wonderfully highlights the importance of sustainable development and living in harmony with nature. #Oscars,” he added.
"The Elephant Whisperers", by Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga, which explores the bond between humans and an abandoned elephant calf in a Tamil Nadu sanctuary, is India’s first win in the Documentary Short category. "Smile Pinki" and "Period. End of Sentence”, both set in India, had also won in the same category but they were foreign productions.
Gonsalves dedicated her win to ‘motherland India’. Her producer Monga did not speak but struck an exultant pose, lifting the coveted golden statuette high in the air.
"... To all the women watching…. The future is audacious and the future is here. Let’s go! Jai hind,” Monga wrote in an Instagram post moments later.
The trophy for Original Song was presented to Keeravaani and Chandrabose by "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" co-stars Janelle Monae and Kate Hudson.
“Naatu Naatu” was competing against “Applause” (sung by Sofia Carson) from “Tell It Like a Woman”, "Hold My Hand" (Lady Gaga) from “Top Gun: Maverick”, "Lift Me Up" (Rihanna) from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and "This Is a Life" (Son Lux, Mitski, David Byrne) from “Everything Everywhere All at Once”.
An overwhelmed Keeravaani broke into song to describe his feeling.
“I grew up listening to The Carpenters and now here I am with the Oscars. There was only one wish on my mind, so was Rajamouli's and our families’ -- 'RRR' has to win… Pride of every Indian… must put me on the top of the world," Keeravani said in tune to The Carpenters’ much loved 1970s song “Top of the World”.
Chandrabose simply signed off with a “Namaste”.
As is the custom, all five nominees get their Oscar moment by performing the song on stage.
“Naatu Naatu”, which translates into bucolic in Telugu, has had everyone swaying to its catchy rhythm this entire award season. When its turn came, Padukone found herself pausing at least thrice to let the cheers subside.
“Do you know ‘Naatu Naatu’? Because, if not, you are about to,” she said. And the dancers from different ethnicities took over, kicking their legs, tap dancing and moving in perfect sync against the backdrop of Ukraine’s presidential palace where the song was shot in the film.
On stage were singers Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava. Once over, the audience, including the who’s who of Hollywood and world cinema, gave them a standing ovation.
It took more than 100 variations and many months of rehearsals before the moves were finalised, choreographer Prem Rakshith told PTI.
This is the third major international recognition for the Telugu song after Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award wins.
"RRR" (Rise Roar Revolt), a pre-independence fictional story, follows two real-life Indian revolutionaries - Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan) and Komaram Bheem (Jr NTR) - in the 1920s. It was released in Telugu, Tamil, Hindi and Malayalam.
"Naatu Naatu" celebrates the inclusive spirit of dance and bonhomie and features Charan and Jr NTR matching steps to its catchy rhythm.
The film’s team described the win as a “surreal moment”.
“We’re blessed that #RRRMovie is the first feature film to bring INDIA's first ever #Oscar in the Best Song Category with #NaatuNaatu! No words can describe this surreal moment. Dedicating this to all our amazing fans across the world. THANK YOU!! JAI HIND!" read the post on the official Twitter page of "RRR".
“Whatever wins up there, an Indian thing, is going to raise the profile of India. I love that song,” Rahman told PTI ahead of Oscar 2023.
“Congratulations @mmkeeravaani garu and @boselyricist garu ....as predicted and well deserved ..Jaiho to both of you and the #RRR team!! #RRRatOSCARS ,” he tweeted after the Oscars.
He also congratulated the makers of “The Elephant Whisperers”, saying, “...you’ve opened the flood gates of inspiration for indian film makers! Jai ho #bosswomen.” The Netflix documentary bested “Haulout”, “How Do You Measure a Year?”, “The Martha Mitchell Effect” and “Stranger at the Gate” to scoop the trophy.
India has never won an Oscar in the International Film category or the Best Foreign Film as it was known earlier. Bhanu Athaiya was the first Indian to win the Oscars after she was conferred the Academy Award for Best Costume Design in Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi”, which bagged eight trophies in 1983.
Directing legend Satyajit Ray was conferred an honorary Oscar in 1992, just a month before his death.
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