South Indian cinema has often lived in the shadow of its glitzier and flashier cousin Bollywood, but the power dynamics have shifted dramatically in the last three years.
And, the tipping point was undoubtedly when the spectacular Telugu-language fantasy adventure ‘RRR’, directed by one of India’s most inventive and innovative directors SS Rajamouli, courted Golden Globes glory last night in Los Angeles. Its energetic and dance-heavy song ‘Naatu Naatu’ nabbed the best original song in a motion picture, surpassing competition from pop idols Lady Gaga and Rihanna.
Let’s face it: ‘RRR’s’ roaring turn at the Golden Globes will remain a moment of reflected pride for every Indian out there, especially South Indian filmmakers who took immense calculated risks with stories and songs invariably rooted in Indian culture and ethos.
‘RRR’ was undoubtedly a visually stunning film which blended fantasy, native folklore, and romance with deft strokes. And it’s now being noticed by viewers that are territory-agnostic when it comes to their movie-watching habits.
And the song ‘Naatu Naatu’ -- which had lyrics that say imagine eating chili and dancing -- was a fitting nod to a bunch of artists who revel in being outlandish and brave when it comes to their career choices. And, what better song than the robust ‘Naatu Naatu’ (which roughly translates to ''country dance) to remind them that embracing your roots and reality can never be a bad idea.
The beats and sounds of ‘Naatu Naatu’ -- picturised on its two strapping heroes dancing with wild abandon celebrate life and everything in between -- were definitely familiar and fortunately didn’t remind us of any Hollywood soundtrack.
Remember, Bollywood and South Indian films are often criticised for “borrowing/getting inspired” heavily from its Western and richer counterpart, Hollywood. But what made ‘RRR’ so triumphant was that they didn’t shy away from stories steeped in Indian mythology. Think of your granny's bedtime tales being projected on a gigantic screen with larger-than-life heroes.
In the super-successful ‘RRR’ we saw an epic re-telling of two revolutionaries. It was the perfect good vs evil film where strong and scrupulous warriors take on evil emperors. If the West gets their superhero fix from Marvel or DC, Indians have turned to Rajamouli for their fantasy adventure shot.
It’s time we give credit where it’s due. In the last four years, a large section of discerning film buffs has been discovered and lauded South Indian films for their realism and strong storylines. The multiple lockdowns in the last few years coupled with the mushrooming of digital viewing platforms meant that content from around the world are now just a click away.
As Bollywood films struggle to find a loyal audience, South Indian films like the blockbusters Kantara’ and ‘Pushpa’ have found favour with an audience that would gravitate towards Hindi films.
Even Rajamouli’s most outlandish ‘Eega’ in Telugu about a housefly created a lot of buzz in the last few years. But as he reminded us in an earlier interview with Gulf News that taking creative gambles is never easy, but it’s crucial for any artist.
“When I made that film ‘Eega’ in Telugu, ‘Eecha’ in Malayalam, and ‘Makki’ in Hindi, it was a crazy film about a housefly … People were laughing at me back home. Nobody knew who I was back then and I was going from one place to the other trying to sell the movie … But taking my films to Indians across the world took years of hard work … With every film I was trying to push beyond the borders,” Rajamouli told Gulf News in that interview.
He added that his ideas were widely mocked and met with incredulity, but he learned to power through that grim phase.
“I am now in a position where they will listen to me … I have created an audience who will listen to me,” he added.
Rajamouli is bang on the buck. We finally hear him – loud and clear.