Naatu Naatu: Will this song make Oscars history?

Given its historically resonant and emotional storyline, RRR’s resounding success in India is hardly surprising. However, its popularity with global audiences – winning a place on severalbest movies of 2022“lists – is unprecedented. It has become the highest grossing Indian film ever in Japan, since its release in late October. The New Yorker, in an interview with the film’s director SS Rajamouli – who won best director at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards in January – described it as”[a] joyously over-the-top action-fantasy,” while Rolling Stone declared it the “best – and most revolutionary – blockbuster of 2022”.

The film owes its success, in no small part, to its musical centerpiece, which Variety called “a movie-musical adrenaline blast”. Naatu Naatu made Indian cinema history by winning the Golden Globe for best original song in January, defeating major contenders like Rihanna, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga. With an Oscar nomination for best original song, and a slated performance at the Academy Awards ceremony this Sunday, interest in the song is at an all-time high.

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While viewers in India have been humming the words and dancing to the tune, do they think this is unique or extraordinary? Maybe not. Anand Krishnamoorthi, a sound designer working on south Indian films, while calling this song “trippy and enjoyable,” tells BBC Culture; “As Indian moviegoers, we have definitely heard better, whereas for an audience not so familiar with our kind of films, it may be fresh.” But there is no doubt about its impact. As Reem Khokhar, an Indian writer who set herself a dance challenge for an entire year, tells BBC Culture; “There was a raw, frenetic energy that just exploded on-screen, I haven’t enjoyed watching a song so much in a long time.”

Krishnamoorthi is, however, delighted that an Indian song has been nominated for best song at the Oscars. This has only happened once before, when composer AR Rahman won for Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire (2009). But that film was not strictly Indian, having been directed by Danny Boyle, along with a mostly British crew.

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