“Naatu Naatu” from RRR won the Oscar for Best Original Song, and it’s an incredible achievement for an Indian production to not only get nominated in the Oscars but actually winning it. Also, while celebrating RRR, we mustn’t forget the Best Short Documentary Award won by “The Elephant Whisperers”. In India, we don’t pay much attention to documentaries, but hopefully this award will get more attention for any future documentaries.
The RRR effect
The Indian cinema, be it from Bollywood, Tollywood or any other industry, had a very limited reach and distribution in all the western countries and especially in the USA where the masses are oblivious to the world outside the America in general. Sure, there’s a large number of Indians in western countries that consume Indian movies but the general western audience never paid much attention to anything that was not Hollywood.
In past few years there are many reaction channels that have grown on YouTube like Jaby Koay or Our Stupid Reactions that have watched, consumed and analysed Indian content in great depth. But to be honest, the majority of the audience for these channels is from India, which is why the awareness they can bring in the western audience about Indian content is sadly limited.
India and rest of the non-western world has been producing some gems for several years now that haven’t been noticed by the western world. But let’s be clear about one thing, I’m not talking about getting the approval of the white guy here. It’s about expanding the audiences and exchanging ideas with other cultures. It is also about getting those fat cheques from the old-world capitalistic production houses. For decades, they’ve been ignoring the rest of the world.
But RRR somehow beat the odds. It not only became a major hit in India when all the Bollywood movies were failing at the box office, but it also stirred a lot of excitement in the USA cinemas. Not only that it also gathered a lot of nominations and awards (whole list here).
Moreover, legendary movie makers like James Cameron, Steven Spielberg and many others noticed and praised the movie publicly. It trended on Twitter multiple times for days. Even my favourite YouTuber-Filmmaker Casey Neistat tweeted about it.
RRR is a good movie with a lot of action, an engaging storytelling, epic background score and well done acting. There are several plot holes but we can overlook them in the grandness of the whole experience. Rajamouli creates these great spectacles that will keep the viewer engaged for hours and essence deliver a bang for the buck experience. To watch his movies in a theatre is an experience you won’t forget easily.
But let’s be real
The experience that RRR delivers, however grandiose, isn’t the first time for most Indians. We are used to this formula of over the top action + drama + epic cinematography + insane dance sequences, especially from southern cinema.
To an average Indian, even Naatu Naatu is not really something way out of the box. That’s not to say that it’s a bad song. Both Jr. NTR and Ram Charan are incredible dancers, but that has been the speciality of southern actors for years (watch Allu Arjun or Vijay!!).
But, Naatu Naatu won the ”Best original song award”, which, in my opinion, shouldn’t care about the choreography or the art direction of the song. “Lift me up” was an objectively better song and Rihanna surely missed out on her first well deserved Oscar because of Naatu Naatu, and as Indians we should be the first to accept that with humility.
M. M. Keeravani is a wonderful composer and even though I’m not hugely impressed by Naatu Naatu, I’m big fan of the way he scores the movies from the time of Bahubali : the beginning. The way he builds the background score for every character and scene is truly epic.
If RRR had been nominated for the “Best Background Score”, it would have given a really tough competition to “All Quiet on the Western Front” which won that particular award. If you want more insight into his composition for RRR, take a look at this video:
So why did Naatu Naatu win the award?
For the same reason most movies and art gets nominated in the Academy awards, Lobbying!!
S.S. Rajamouli and his production team played the game that is needed to be played to reach the Oscars and left no stone unturned when it comes to the promotion of the movie in the west, especially the USA. If you take a look at list of nominations and wins it got in many smaller film festivals, you’d get the idea of how much work they must have had to put in to create awareness in the judges and jury for all these festivals who generally don’t pay much attention to any foreign cinema.
The another reason was that, although the experience of Indian movies is completely new to the most of western world if we talk in percentages. Which means, they had never experienced how a general Indian film works, and they watched RRR, a sensory overload for all of them.
After the first successful step of lobbying and aggressive marketing, RRR also delivered an experience to them that they’ve never had before. None of their movies have dance numbers with impressive looking dudes dancing their hearts out. The movies they watch don’t have the hero lift a motorcycle in one hand without establishing that he is a “Super or meta human”. It was a whole new world to them and they loved it. This helped in the growing popularity among the masses which made the jury take a look at the movie.
The third reason is completely my assumption, but it’s based on logic, and that is Population!
India not only has the second biggest population in the world, but it also has the second largest number of internet users in the world (which is almost double the population of the USA). Moreover, the internet penetration rate is just 47%, which means even more users will be connected to the internet in next few years.
More internet users means more consumers of the content from rest of the world, which means more potential customers for the companies to target and sell products to. It’s all economics!!
Let’s talk about AR Rahman
AR Rahman recently made a comment that “India sends ‘wrong movies’ to international awards like the Oscars” but let’s also talk about his own Oscar and Golden Globe wins.
AR Rahman is indisputably the best music director in the history of Indian cinema. He has created masterpieces for all the industries in India. For more than 2 decades he has produced some of the best music ever produced over and over.
Take a look at this video for a video essay on one of his movie score:
Some of my favourite albums by ARR are Dil se, Roja, Bombay, Rang De Basanti, Saathiya, Rockstar, list goes on. Point is, we all know he is incredible.
But what won him an Oscar and a Grammy? Jai Ho!!
“Jai Ho” may have been a significant moment for Indian music on a global stage, but it was not AR Rahman’s best work. There are many other songs and compositions by Rahman that are of much higher quality and deserving of an Oscar. But the movie Slumdog millionaire had a big name of Danny Boyle attached to it, along with some big production houses that pushed it to all those Oscar victories Similarly, many other deserving songs and composers have been snubbed in the past due to the Academy’s focus on popularity over artistic merit.
And it’s not just the songs. You can also read about why Sardar Udham was denied to be sent for Oscar nominations here.
Academy Awards have a problem
The Oscars have been a topic of discussion and debate for years. While many people view them as the ultimate recognition for excellence in the film industry, others are more critical of the awards and their selection process.
Now you could say, why pay so much attention to the Oscars? but, the importance of the Oscars still lies in the attention they bring to the film industry and the potential for more diverse and quality cinema to reach a wider audience. The Oscars can provide a platform for lesser-known films and artists to gain recognition and exposure, which can lead to wider distribution and increased funding for future projects.
In addition to the issue of lobbying and popularity, there are also issues of bias and lack of diversity within the Oscars. The Academy has historically been dominated by white men, and this has resulted in a lack of recognition for films and artists from underrepresented communities. However, in recent years, there has been a push for more diversity and inclusion within the Academy. The addition of new members from diverse backgrounds and the implementation of new voting rules have led to a more varied selection of nominees and winners.
Here’s another good watch that talks about the problem of how nominations work in the Oscars:
Although there is a long way to go for the Academy to improve and even for the Film Federation of India with respect to choosing films to nominate and give importance to, this win for RRR as well as for the short documentary The Elephant Whisperers will surely bring in the attention and distribution for all of the Indian content and more of the world.
A big win indeed!!