For the past few days, I have been wracking my brain trying to make a modicum of sense out of Naatu Naatu, the whirling dervish of a song-dance sequence from the film RRR, a fictitious period piece set during British colonial times. So much so that my brain has become addled and frazzled. If you watch, goggle-eyed at that mind-bending, foot-stomping number more than a couple of times, I guarantee your grey cells will be nicely fried to a crisp. Now I need to be very careful here and tread gingerly on sensitive and fragile egg shells. If I were to express, even for the sake of being just ornery, a view that Naatu Naatu is a ridiculous work of non-art, enough to make you wonder what the composers and choreographers were thinking of, and that one’s whole concept of Man as a sentient being, needs to be completely revised, what then? I have little doubt that I will be branded and pilloried as an unpatriotic philistine, whose own cerebral development was arrested while a mewling and puking infant. ‘Dropped on the head as a baby,’ they will whisper to one another. That said, the Academy of Motion Pictures, at their 95th Awards extravaganza in Hollywood, saw fit to decorate Naatu Naatu with the Best Song award. Raise a toast, if you must.
Notwithstanding my churlish views on the subject, and I can rant all I want, the whole world is dancing to Naatu Naatu. My ill-timed comments will be met with the scorn they so richly deserve. The Prime Minister of our great nation has weighed in with laudatory words. Unconfirmed reports have it that he did a few, smart goose-steps while making those congratulatory remarks. They were dancing to the irresistible, driving hook-step rhythms of Naatu Naatu at the Korean Embassy in New Delhi, the Ambassador himself leading the troupe. Lest we forget, South Korean rapper PSY had the whole world literally at his feet and dancing to his tune about a decade ago, with his Gangnam Style, of which Naatu Naatu would appear to be a vibrant Indian reincarnation. Does anyone remember Gangnam Style now, unless prodded? Most of all, on Oscar Night at the glittering, not to say glitzy, Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles (that’s Hollywood, baby), the jam-packed audience was stunned and bemused by India’s fabulous contribution to the arts. World culture, here we come. Naatu Naatu will sweep you off your feet.
Forget India’s Bharat Ratna gems M.S. Subbulakshmi, Lata Mangeshkar and Pandit Ravishankar, amongst others. Naatu Naatu is the new India, beamed across the entire globe, that is going to be richly celebrated. India’s Bollywood diva, Deepika Padukone, looking resplendent in a fetching cut-away, Louis Vuitton black gown, her top half adorned only by a Cartier (why not Tanishq?), diamond-studded statement necklace and yellow solitaire (not forgetting her perfectly set pearly teeth), glowingly introduced the winners, the two gentleman who wrote and composed Naatu Naatu, Messrs Chandrabose and M.M. Keeravani respectively.
Keeravani by name, but his Academy award-winning composition for RRR was anything but redolent of that contemplative Carnatic raga of the same name. Floating on air, and who can blame him, it took courage on the part of the music composer to belt out a few lines from that old Carpenters hit, Top of the World. Lyrically, and given the largely western audience present, it was an appropriate song to warble a snatch from. Judging by Mr. Keeravani’s performance, one must modestly conclude that his singing is not a patch on his talent as a composer. Then again, I would hate to judge his abilities as a film music composer purely on the basis of Naatu Naatu. Keeravani undoubtedly has composed, and will compose far more beautiful songs than Naatu Naatu, and they will go unnoticed and waste their sweetness in the desert air. That is how the pop industry cookie crumbles. However, there is a sliver of an icing on the cake, as one half of the legendary American pop sibling duo, Richard Carpenter (his sister Karen had died tragically in 1983 at the age of 32) played and sang a reimagined snatch from Top of the World with his family members and put it out on social media as a congratulatory message to Keeravani and Chandrabose. Their cup runneth over.
For what it is worth, it is also my considered view that Naatu Naatu, in all probability, won the Best Song award, primarily due to the fact that the visual support the song received from the superhit film RRR, helped in no small measure. The lavish setting (shot somewhere in Ukraine, would you believe?), the hyper-kinetic dancing by the two male heroes, Ram Charan and N.T. Rama Rao Jr., the supposedly British support cast (they could easily have been local-yokel Ukrainians) who are given a royal ‘one in the eye’ by the Indian heroes, the lavish choreography – all of which contributed to the adrenalin rush of this hit number. If the song had been considered purely as a song, as the other contenders evidently had been, I wouldn’t have given Naatu Naatu a snowball-in-hell’s chance, but hey, that’s just me. Lest you get the wrong idea, I do not wish to look a gift horse in the mouth. I am as happy as any lark that India grabbed not one, but two awards at this year’s Oscars. Eat your hearts out, Rihanna and Lady Gaga.
Without making a fuss and almost passing unnoticed, the silent elephant in the room grabbed its chance without any loud trumpeting. Amidst all the dust and din over RRR and Naatu Naatu, The Elephant Whisperers made a dignified bow and earned its rightful place in the spotlight. This sensitive Tamil documentary, made by Kartiki Gonsalves, examines the close bond that develops between a couple, Bomman and Bellie and an orphaned baby elephant, Raghu. The natural beauty of the Mudumalai National Park provides a stunning backdrop to this movingly told real-life story. Like the elephants, the film moves in a gentle, majestic gait. The leading ‘stars’ of the film, including the elephants, just live their parts on celluloid, evidently unaware of the cameras around them. No acting or emoting called for. They just go about their daily chores. If a screenplay and script was written for them we, the audience, were blissfully unaware – a sure sign of great film making. A tribal couple in tune with their natural habitat, The Elephant Whisperers was a shoo-in for best short documentary. Receiving warm applause from a packed house against the raucous hullabaloo accorded to Naatu Naatu, the stark contrast was palpable. One caveat. The Elephant Whisperers has been billed as an Indo-American co-production, but no matter, India will grab its share of well-earned encomiums.
Flying under the radar, The Elephant Whisperers’ producer Guneet Monga later expressed justified disappointment that her acceptance speech was ‘cut off’ on Oscar night. She also graciously expressed her warm congratulations to Shaunak Sen’s touchingly-filmed nominee, All that Breathes for just missing out on winning an Oscar for best feature documentary film. Which was nice of her and a gesture Keeravani, sitting on top of the world, should have made. Clearly, all the rah-rah-rah was reserved for RRR.
Let me get back to Naatu Naatu. Whether I like it or not, this is the song that is grabbing the eyeballs. Apparently, YouTube viewership of the song sequence is going through the roof, the number of zeroes after the digits virtually uncountable. It is all very well for me to hoity-toitily say, ‘there’s no accounting for taste.’ After all, I myself have seen it at least four times, notwithstanding my excuse of collecting material for this blog. Right, here is what I attempted to do, on the monkey-see-monkey-do principle. I did not try to sing Naatu Naatu, that is for sure. I had to draw the line somewhere. Since I do not wear suspenders, I had to forego the, presumably painful, suspender snapping moves of the heroes, to say nothing of the flailing arms and legs at insane speeds, calculated to do incalculable damage to one’s shoulder and knee joints. Given my age, what I thought was within the purview of practical politics was the neck jerks to either side, in tandem with the rhythm of the song. In any case, I do this every morning in slow motion to take care of my cervical issues. Doing it a bit faster could not have made much of a difference. So I did that.
What was I thinking? I jerked my neck leftwards, at which point, it refused to return to base. My neck was locked painfully looking leftwards, and I am not even a left-leaning sort of chap. I have heard of lockjaw, but lock-neck was a new experience, and quite painful. A lock-neck monster! So, I did what any physiotherapist would have recommended. Waited for Naatu Naatu to revert to the chorus line and, at the risk of a nasty cervical incident, jerked my head back to neutral. It worked! Not before I thought my head had parted from its moorings. No pain, no gain. I apologise for all the intemperate things I said about Naatu Naatu. I recommend the song be adopted by all physio therapeutic outfits as their default musical theme, to be played on an endless loop. Royalties will be heavy but they can recover the costs from their long-suffering customers.
So, here is my final verdict on India’s day at the Oscars. Well done RRR and The Elephant Whisperers. As well as All that Breathes. India is mighty proud and puffing its chest out. With Naatu Naatu and The Elephant Whisperers hogging the limelight at the Academy, the 1961 hit Baby Elephant Walk ought to have been played over the public address system, with due acknowledgment given to Henry Mancini and Hatari! That said, the Naatu Naatu gang can take a well-earned break. They need it.
And so do we.
All I can say is “ Nutty Nutty Nutty” must be the Awards jury to have picked this winner!
Natu Natu was not a song. It was a frantic flailing of limbs to a paroxysm of vocally enunciated sounds (noises?). The appeal was in the dancing. If there was no dancing, there would be no song worth singing. So to be awarded the Oscar for Best Song is inexplicable, if one wishes to be polite, and asinine to be honest.
The Elephant Whisperer, on the other hand, was a work of art in the most superior sense of the word. The players – and that included the elephants – were not acting; they went about living their life just as they must normally do, never conscious of a camera tracking their every move. In the end it is a film that one can watch, repeatedly, and always end up with a tear in one’s eye but also a smile in one’s heart.
Let India revel in Natu Natu, but not for the wrong reasons. I certainly don’t. And won’t.
Thank you, Stanley. You have echoed my sentiments down to a T.
Hey Suresh- I tried to watch it. Nattu Nattu is completely nuts. And so are the member jurors of the Motion Picture Academy. Your article has taken the words out of my mouth. Nice job, my friend.
If a Tom Cruise Top Gun is considered for best picture, not surprising RRR song gets the award. Yes, both documentaries are worth more than one watch.
Being truthful and honest without being offensive is the fine art of writing. You have done it, Suresh. Congratulations.
Ask me if I agree with you; no, as I didn’t have the courage to handle the frozen neck syndrome; I skipped the dance and song. As a patriotic citizen, however, I joined our PM in sending out my heartiest greeting to the concerned gentlemen, whatever their names may be.
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