It was a night to remember. On a stage where divas descend and stardom is sprinkled like fairy dust, Indian cinema not just dazzled but also captured hearts with the ultimate embrace, a standing ovation.
The unstoppable Naatu Naatu from SS Rajamouli’s RRR kept its foot-tapping promise, winning the best original song at the Academy Awards.
The night was still young when two women swept the stage, taking home the Best Documentary Short Oscar for The Elephant Whisperers.
The infectious Naatu Naatu has officially arrived for posterity, is there any other way if nominees who didn’t win in the same category include Lady Gaga?
Victory must be sweeter for team RRR, it was snubbed as India’s official entry for the Oscar awards with Gujarati film Chello Show being sent instead.
A global audience
RRR’s journey to the pinnacle where a global audience is dancing to its tunes is a script in itself, one that shows self-belief is second to none.
Rajamoulli entered the movie for the Academy Awards independently- some reports say spending a huge personal fortune on it- collecting multiple awards like the Golden Globe and Hollywood Critics Association Film Awards along the way.
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Its box office collections are no longer just domestic, cinema halls in countries as far away as Canada and Japan have been running to packed houses.
What Naatu Naatu has also done is to shake the gaze of international audience that identifies global Indian movies with poverty porn. From films like Salaam Bombay, Slumdog Millionaire to the adaption of White Tiger, portrayals have been one- dimensional.
RRR by contrast is an unapologetically larger than life period drama that follows the story of two freedom fighters in colonial India.
Rightfully calling the song an absolute ‘banger’, it was only fitting that presenting Naatu Naatu at the Academy Awards was actor Deepika Padukone.
Elegant and luminous, her class act on the biggest stage was a thumbs down at those who are given another script, to attack actors like her whether for their clothes or their words.
Bond between humans and elephants
The night belonged equally to The Elephant Whisperers. Directed by Kartiki Gonsalves, it is the heart-warming story of a tribal couple and their bond with two elephants.
“Today I can say, the future for Indian cinema is audacious, the future is here and not to forget the future is truly female,” producer Guneet Monga’s acceptance speech delivers, now Indian cinema needs to keeps its promise once the Oscar spotlight fades.
It will need resilience, for ask Rajamoulli, an Oscar isn’t won by the faint- hearted! India’s famed entertainment industry- for long lauded as its soft power- has undergone the kind of churning that makes the Oscar success of RRR and The Elephant Whisperers, standout achievements.
More than anything it gives hope to the business of filmmaking that is increasingly held hostage by boycott gangs and politicians obsessively searching for a needle to prick the industry haystack.
There was an era when Raj Kapoor’s films were dubbed in Russian and satires like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro ticked everything that was wrong in society.
The different strains coexisted and filtered down for global generations to enjoy the soft power of our film industry. Till the tide changed and scared filmmakers and nervous actors were put on a tight leash, summoned for a selfie. An unafraid SS Rajmoulli has changed that and Naatu Naatu could be a new dawn.
This is the moment that the Indian film industry has been ready and waiting for. But there could be many a slip between the cup and the lip.
To grasp it, not only cliched Bollywood plots need a rethink, Indian sensibilities need more credit but there also has to be acceptance that the film industry doesn’t rise and set in Mumbai.
Comfort zones will have to be tinkered with if it wants to take advantage of this global wave of recognition it finds itself in.
Diversity and Academy Awards have for long been two parallel roads. Michelle Yeoh’s Best Actress win is a first for Asia but for every two steps forward, there is one back.
Naatu Naatu’s live stage performance did not feature the film’s lead actors Ram Charan and Jr NTR, it was choreographed by non-Indians and had a cast on stage that did not represent South Asia.
In its infectious energy the dance hid its failure, that of its very essence. The dance off theme was about the Indians taking on the British.
Once it’s done and dusted RRR will be remembered for its wholesome entertainment mantra, go big or go home. But it will also recap the versatility of Indian cinema when a love story between humans and elephants won top honours.
Oscars, two glorious ones, are coming home.