“Naatu Naatu” became the first song from a Tollywood film to win best original song at the Oscars, hoofing its way past superstars like Lady Gaga and Rihanna in India’s version of a Cinderella story.
The win went to veteran composer M.M. Keeravani, who co-wrote all the songs for the film as well as its score, and lyricist Chandrabose. Their triumph followed a highly energized song-and-dance performance of “Naatu Naatu” that was, by acclamation, one of the highlights of this year’s telecast.
Keeravani delighted the audience by giving much of his acceptance speech to the tune of a Carpenters classic.
“I grew up listening to the Carpenters and now here I am with the Oscars,” he began, and then began singing the melody of the ’70s pop smash”Top of the World”: ” ‘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.”
“Naatu Naatu” had already been highly favored for a win, having been seen as a front-runner even before it picked up the Golden Globe for best song in January.
As presenter Deepika Padukone said earlier in introducing the live performance of “Naatu Naatu,” the song does double duty as “the first song ever from an Indian production to be nominated for an Oscar” and “a total banger.”
It became the year’s top movie-music meme last year as social media users created their own versions of the “hook step” choreography seen in footage released ahead of the film’s American release.
Keeravani and Chandrabose are not actually the first Indians to win in the best song category. At the 2019 Oscars, “Jai Ho,” from the film “Slumdog Millionaire,” prevailed, with composer A.R. Rahman coming up a double-winner as he also won best score. But “Slumdog” was a British production, despite its Indian setting. Rahman has been among those celebrating the historic status of “Naatu Naatu” and congratulating the long-respected Keeravani for enabling the popular breakthrough for Indian cinema in other parts of the world as “a paradigm shift.”
In an interview with Variety, Keeravaani said the song’s beat had a great deal to do with the popularity. “The beat is 6/8 — that’s not very frequently heard from the West, but more frequently heard from India and sometimes from Africa and countries like that,” said the composer. “To be precise, it’s even a South Indian kind of beat, not so much North Indian. And in ‘Naatu Naatu,’ this beat took another dimension and another level of BPM (beats per minute) which is very rarely heard in the West. So that’s what primarily got the attention of the Western audience.”
But the composer also pointed to his singers, who recreated their soundtrack performance at the Oscars: “I picked Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava to do justice to this melody and they gave their best. That’s why the song is what it is now.”
Keeravani further said, “The ‘Naatu Naatu’ song has to make you forget everything — and not just the viewer who is watching the movie, but the characters from the story, too, need to forget every other thing happening around them and pay their full attention towards the song. And the coda, the end part of the song, consists of so much stamina, you cannot call it merely a song — it is an action sequence.”