There’s more to ‘Naatu Naatu’ at the Oscars than you think
Jimmy Kimmel, who played host at last night’s Oscars, referred to blockbuster RRR as a Bollywood film in his opening monologue. This seemingly innocuous comment solicited angry Twitter reactions — but has also resulted in an important distinction being made.
Indians everywhere celebrated the win by composer M. M. Keeravani and lyricist Chandrabose. Many online simultaneously raised an important point: the recognition for this Telugu-language song marks a major landing for South Indian cinema — or Tollywood — on the global stage.
Indian cinema has long been conflated as one. But distinctive ways of storytelling, bodies of work, and productions belong to different regions in the country. Bollywood, which refers to Hindi-language cinema, presents primarily North Indian perspectives and storytelling. This is the oft-mentioned leg of Indian cinema and the historic lens through which the West has witnessed Indian filmmaking. But the ubiquity of the term has been criticized for sidelining regional cinema, and sweeping all Indian films under one umbrella.
Kimmel was found guilty of this mistake, illustrating how much Indian films are converged when it comes to conversations around Indian films. On the other hand, Indian actress Deepika Padukone, who presented “Naatu Naatu” before the song’s performance on the Oscars stage, was sure to mention that the song is in Telugu and the movie is an Indian production.
Notably, there is also criticism towards the live performance of “Naatu Naatu”, in that primarily non-Indian creators and artists were chosen to choreograph and participate in the dance. Many are condemning the lack of inclusion of South Asian artists for this very moment, given that the song and film were crowned for both their culture and originality.
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RRR’s Oscar was one of two awarded to the country this year, with The Elephant Whisperers — an Indian-American Tamil-language feature — bagging Best Documentary Short Subject. South Asian talent was also celebrated at a star-studded pre-Oscars event, hosted by Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Anjula Acharia, with co-chairs including Mindy Kaling, Malala Yousafzai, Kumail Nanjiani, Kal Penn, and Aziz Ansari. The second annual celebration honored this years Oscar nominees, including RRR, Pakistani film Joyland, and Indian documentary All That Breathes.
In an interview on the champagne carpet, Padukone said that this is “an exciting time for Indian cinema.” Her choice of wording is vital: the growth of Tollywood and South Indian cinema as a whole has ballooned in recent years, paving the path for Indian talent to be recognized and uplifted outside of Bollywood.
Ram Charan, the lead actor in RRR, tweeted after the ceremony, “This is our country’s win!” An immense win for India, indeed, the success of RRR and its Academy Award extravaganza can also be noted for wider representation within the country itself.