Do you know … naatu? The academy proved it does Sunday night when the heel-tapping “Naatu Naatu,” from Indian blockbuster “RRR,” won the Oscar for original song, making history in the process.
With music by composer M.M. Keeravani and lyrics by Chandrabose, the infectious Telugu-language dance number from director S.S. Rajamouli’s crossover action hit is the first song from an Indian film to be nominated, and win, in its category.
“Thank you, Academy. I grew up listening to the Carpenters, and now here I am with the Oscars,” Keeravani said in his acceptance speech, before breaking into song: “There was only one wish on my mind…RRR has to win, pride of every Indian, and must put me on the top of the world.”
Previously, in 2009, Indian composer A.R. Rahman’s “Jai Ho” won the original song Oscar for Danny Boyle’s U.K. production “Slumdog Millionaire.” But the vast majority of winners spanning the category’s nearly 90 years in existence have been English-language songs from Hollywood films.
Grassroots favorite “Naatu Naatu” had factors in its favor: namely, “RRR” stars N.T. Rama Rao Jr., a.k.a. Jr NTR, and Ram Charan, whose charismatic lead turns in the 1920s-set anticolonialist epic are highlighted in the breathless number that had audiences dancing in the aisles throughout the film’s international theatrical runs and wildly popular U.S. rerelease.
The hit song became a popular breakout number as “RRR” mania swept the globe last year, translated as “Naacho Naacho” in Hindi, “Naattu Koothu” in Tamil, “Halli Naatu” in Kannada and “Karinthol” in Malayalam.
Recorded by Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava, “Naatu Naatu” beat out songs from four English-language films to score the trophy: “Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” sung by pop icon Rihanna; “This Is a Life” from “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” performed by Mitski; “Applause” from “Tell It Like a Woman,” penned by Diane Warren and sung by Sofia Carson; and Lady Gaga’s soaring “Top Gun: Maverick” ballad, “Hold My Hand.”
Sipligunj and Bhairava made their Oscars debut Sunday performing the song at the 95th Academy Awards, accompanied by a cadre of dancers, with director Rajamouli, stars Jr NTR and Charan, Keeravani and Chandrabose in the audience.
Filmed over two weeks at Ukraine’s presidential palace months before the Russian invasion, “Naatu Naatu” unfolds as freedom-fighting besties Komaram Bheem (Jr NTR) and Alluri Sitarama Raju (Charan) unite in a fast-paced dance-off against bullying British rivals.
The grueling dance scene, choreographed by Prem Rakshith, runs over four continuous minutes and has over half a billion views on YouTube in various languages.