‘Naatu Naatu’ became the first song from a Tollywood film to win Best Original Song at the Oscars, overtaking superstars like Lady Gaga and Rihanna in India’s version of a Cinderella story.
Victory went to veteran composer MM Keeravani, who co-wrote all of the film’s songs as well as its score, and lyricist Chandrabose. Their triumph followed a very energetic song and dance performance of “Naatu Naatu” which was, by acclaim, one of the highlights of this year’s telecast.
Keeravani delighted the audience by delivering much of his acceptance speech to the tune of a Carpenters classic.
“I grew up listening to the Carpenters and now I’m with the Oscars,” he began, then began singing the melody from the 70s pop hit “Top of the World”: “There had only one wish in my mind…. ‘RRR’ must win, pride of every Indian, and must put me on top of the world.
“Naatu Naatu” had already been heavily favored for a win, having been considered a favorite even before winning the Golden Globe for Best Song in January.
As presenter Deepika Padukone said earlier when introducing the live performance of “Naatu Naatu”, the song does double duty as “the first song from an Indian production to be nominated for an Oscar” and “a total banger”. .
It became the best film score meme of the year last year as social media users created their own versions of the ‘hook step’ choreography seen in footage released ahead of the film’s US release.
Keeravani and Chandrabose are actually not the first Indians to win in the best song category. At the 2019 Oscars, “Jai Ho” from the film “Slumdog Millionaire” prevailed, with composer AR Rahman taking home a double winner as he also took home the top score. But “Slumdog” was a British production, despite its Indian setting. Rahman was among those celebrating the historic status of “Naatu Naatu” and praising the highly respected Keeravani for enabling the popular breakthrough of Indian cinema in other parts of the world as “a paradigm shift”.
In an interview with Variety, Keeravaani said the rhythm of the song had a lot to do with popularity. “The rhythm is 6/8 – it’s not heard very often from the West, but more frequently heard from India and sometimes from Africa and countries like that,” the composer said. “To be precise, it’s even a South Indian beat, not so much North Indian. And in ‘Naatu Naatu’, this rhythm took on another dimension and another level of BPM (beats per minute) which is very rarely heard in the West. So that’s what mainly caught the attention of Western audiences.
But the composer also pointed the finger at his singers, who recreated their Oscar soundtrack performance: “I chose Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava to do this melody justice and they gave their best. That’s why the song is what it is now.
Keeravani added, “The song ‘Naatu Naatu’ should make you forget everything – and not just the viewer watching the film, but the characters in the story should also forget everything that is happening around them and pay their full pay attention to the song. And the coda, the final part of the song, consists of so much endurance, you can’t just call it a song – it East an action sequence.