Naatu Naatu Wins Academy Award for Best Song for RRR

Despite being snubbed for India’s Best International Feature submission, “RRR” got its well-deserved moment in the Oscar spotlight on Sunday night when M.M. Keeravani’s song “Naatu Naatu” received the Academy Award for Best Original Song. The energetic musical number became a viral hit thanks to the electric duet performance from Ram Charan and N.T. Rama Rao Jr, and excitement around the song only grew as the film slowly built a following out of streaming audiences from around the globe.

The award marks the culmination of “RRR” director S.S. Rajamouli’s long working relationship with Keeravani. Speaking to IndieWire, Rajamouli recalled the way that his relationship with his longtime composer made it easy to discuss the narrative context in which the song takes place to deliver a more impactful musical number.

“Bheem is being humiliated, he’s an innocent guy,” Rajamouli said. “He’s a great dancer, but he’s in a completely unfamiliar world. So, when Ram comes and helps him, I want the audience to feel their anger. They can’t fight because of the situation that they’re in, but I’m bringing this song which is supposed to give me the satisfaction of a fight. [Keeravani and I] had a lot of discussion on that.”

“RRR” was an immediate hit with audiences and critics when it opened in theaters in India, and quickly became an international phenomenon when it began streaming on Netflix last year.

“S.S. Rajamouli’s ‘RRR’ is a dazzling work of historical fiction — emphasis on the ‘fiction’ — that makes the moving image feel intimate and enormous all at once,” Siddhant Adlakha wrote in his IndieWire review. “A pulsating period action drama, it outshines even the director’s record-smashing ‘Baahubali’ movies (viewers familiar with them probably won’t know what to expect here) thanks to its mix of naked sincerity, unapologetic machismo, and balls-to-the-wall action craftsmanship. The film is playing on over a thousand screens in North America, and watching it with a packed audience familiar with Telugu-language cinema is likely to yield one of the noisiest and most raucous theatrical experiences imaginable. Plenty of recent releases have been hailed as ‘the return of cinema’ post-pandemic, but ‘RRR’ stands apart as an unabashed return to everything that makes the cinematic experience great, all at once.”

Part of the film’s overwhelming success can be attributed to the way it blended action and musical numbers in a way that was unfamiliar to most Western audiences. In a separate interview with IndieWire’s Eric Kohn, Rajamouli spoke about his love of dazzling audiences with spectacle-driven cinema.

“I always like to push the boundaries,” Rajamouli said. “You can create a fantastic spectacle if the characters have supernatural powers. That’s great to see onscreen, but for me, once the character has those powers, if the audience believes he can do anything, then there is no creative tension. I would like to make my characters real but the action over the top. To bridge that gap, I need to push the emotional drive of the characters. It has been proven that when a person is emotionally driven, he can do things that are beyond belief. We have heard so many stories about people doing unimaginable things when they need to. That’s what gives me the confidence to create really big action sequences that you know aren’t possible but believe the characters can go through them.”

The fusion of musical and action elements has been a hallmark of Rajamouli’s films to date. That could continue to be the case (the director is working on a musical adaptation of the Indian national epic the Mahabharata and is open to making an “RRR” sequel). But when asked if he’s obligated to include dance in his future projects, the filmmaker made it clear that he doesn’t feel pigeonholed as a musical director.

“There is no obligation,” he said. “When you start making a film, you select a storyline and a star cast. You understand what people are going to expect from this film. Let’s say Steven Spielberg is doing a movie with Kristen Stewart. Immediately audiences will have an expectation of what that’s going to be. If you reach that expectation, you will have a successful film. If you go beyond that expectation, then you’re going to have a blockbuster. If you don’t reach that expectation, you’re going to have a flat film. When I have a basic storytelling and the people who are going to act in the film, I also know that the audiences will expect songs. We have to make the most of it.”

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