Winning an Oscar could make ‘Naatu Naatu’ India’s official crossover hit song

 What does it take for a song to become a global phenomenon? Could it be catchy beats or an addictive hook or is it lyrics that leave a mark? Whatever the answer might be, the one thing beyond debate is that ‘Naatu Naatu has got it all.

Originally sung in Telugu by Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava, the up-tempo track was also released in Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi. Its multi-lingual presence crossed geographical boundaries amassing a significant edge to the song’s reach and popularity. So far, the Telugu version of the song has 142 million views on YouTube while the Hindi version ‘Naacho Naacho’ has 226 million. It’s become the first ever Asian-Indian song to win a Golden Globes in the Original Song category and back home, no less than PM Narendra Modi extended his congratulations to the team for their success. Now all eyes rest on the Oscar nominations – it’s already a favourite to make the final cut – where it’s competing with 14 other songs for the coveted statue.

Crossing borders

Public response for ‘Naatu Naatu’ has been extraordinary. Southern Indian states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka have witnessed maximum streaming and viewership. “It’s by far the most successful song in its genre for the decade. There have been more than 875+ million streams on all music platforms and YouTube,” says Lahari Music’s digital head Naveen K. Manoharan before adding, “There’s been a massive response outside India with about 140+ Million streams.”

With lyrics by Chandrabose, ‘Naatu Naatu’ has been composed by MM. Keeravani aka MM Kreem. He said in a discussion with Variety that the 6/8 beat in the song, being a rare occurrence in the Western world, captured attention for its uniqueness.

Having started his career with independent music, singer Sipligunj has been associated with Keeravani for more than a decade now. “It’s been a blessing. ‘Naatu Naatu’ all together is on another level. Grateful to sir for trusting and making me sing in all four languages,” he said. Nonetheless, the song also scored major points for the energetic and enthusiastic dance sequence of NTR Jr. and Ram Charan. Moreover, it’s widely believed that the song is also significantly ahead because of social media through short form content like Tik Tok and Instagram Reels.

Choreographer Prem Rakshith, the man who created the magic, had to try over 115 variations of the hook steps before finalising the one that made the cut. “It’s a challenge to choreograph two stars. Each superstar has his own style. For ‘Naatu Naatu’, it was difficult to take two styles and put them in one,” he told AajTak. It took more than 40 retakes to shoot the song in 23 days.

Oscars 2023

Shortlists have already been announced across 10 Categories by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in December based on members’ votes. Members who satisfy a minimum viewing requirement are invited from all territories to participate in the preliminary round of voting. Sound designer and editor Resul Pookutty who took home an Oscar for his work on ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ said, “Getting shortlisted itself is a great thing and a nomination is as good as a win!”

Mahalaxmi Iyer, singer of the track ‘Jai Ho’ from the Danny Boyle film, which won the Oscar in 2008 said, “To make it to the Oscars a song should have a great melody which touches a chord. There should be combinations of notes of Indian scales, ragas or rhythm patterns or the uniqueness of Indian instruments and their sounds. The public response also does count.”

Industry Implications

“‘Naatu-Naatu’ getting this recognition is richly deserved,” says noted film journalist Faridoon Shahriyar. “A lot of credit goes to SS Rajamouli for believing in the music and film.” This international success holds much significance for the entertainment industry, standing out as a departure from the West’s conventional appreciation of Indian cinema. Domestically, it also shows the broadening of the cinematic horizon where non-Bollywood films claim a nationwide presence. “It’s a very big moment right now for Indian cinema,” added Faridoon. “MM Keeravani has given an outstanding song and we have a very good chance at the Oscars.”

“Music in itself is speaking a more cohesive language where ideas and possibilities are now limitless,” added ‘Jai Ho’’s singer Iyer. “The audience is gaining and enjoying newer sounds and styles.”

Making a presence at the Oscars will increase the reach of Indian cinema and music, getting the Indian music industry all the closer ahead to that crossover hit we’ve been waiting for. “As global attention falls on films, music and arts from a region in general, it lifts the people into limelight and attracts not just awards and recognition, but also opportunity for new endeavors and collaboration,” said singer-composer Arko Pravo Mukherjee.

Singer-songwriter Rimi Nique believes that it’s a good time for the entire Indian music fraternity. “As the world is becoming more global and intertwined, Indian songs finally have the chance to grace the ears of those who make decisions for what’s the ‘best song’ for these prestigious titles,” she said. Additionally, rumours abound of a live performance by NTR Jr. and Ram Charan at the Oscar big stage.  

Numbers that Matter

Made with Rs 550 cr, ‘RRR’  holds the tag of being India’s biggest budgeted film till date, earning more than Rs 1,200 cr at the box office.

While the film performed well on the big screen, it’s received a phenomenal response on OTT platforms, first on Zee5 and then Netflix while Disney+ Hotstar is the latest to stream the film. The film earned a whopping amount through the rights selling process, with Zee5 alone paying Rs 325 cr for streaming rights in all South languages. Though Rajamouli’s films are mostly released in all five Indian languages, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi; following the film’s success, it’s has been decided to make the film available in English, Portuguese, Spanish, Korean, Turkish, Chinese and Japanese.

This multilingual expansion played a significant role in the film’s success. “It’s very important that we get tracks that appeal to all sections of music lovers and this universal appeal is what we look for while acquiring content from a music labels point of view,” said Lahari Music’s Manoharan before signing off.

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