The Indian hit turned global phenomenon “RRR” went one for two at the Golden Globes Tuesday night, missing out on best non-English-language picture to “Argentina, 1985” but triumphing for best original song with the viral sensation “Naatu Naatu.” The song entered the race as an underdog, with music superstars Rihanna, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga and director-songwriter Guillermo del Toro also competing in the category. But awards interest in “RRR” has picked up in recent weeks as the crowd-pleasing action-drama-musical has transcended cult status to earn serious awards attention.
The Golden Globe was picked up by composer-songwriter M.M. Keeravani, who thanked his lyricists, arranger, family and director-writer S.S. Rajamouli. The song’s Globes win increases anticipation that “Naatu” will become the rare song by Indian composers to get an Oscar nomination later this month; it already made the Academy’s 15-song shortlist.
Backstage at the Globes, Keeravani was clearly processing the latest chapter of “RRR’s” unusual journey through Hollywood. “I feel amused, thrilled, excited,” he said. “I feel I am very grateful to the universe.”
Of “Naatu Naatu,” Keervani explained, “it’s a song of celebration. We all wanted to showcase in the song lots of stamina and energy.”
The night before the Globes, Rajamouli, Keeravani and the film’s two leading men, Ram Charan and N.T. Rama Rao Jr., convened in America for the first time at a raucous screening at the Chinese Theatre, sponsored by the American Cinematheque and Beyond Fest. The screening had sold out in just over 90 seconds, and the audience whooped and screamed throughout the three-hour-plus film, with dozens taking to the floor in front of the Chinese’s IMAX screen for a “Naatu Naatu” dance-athon, before finally settling down for a nearly hour-long Q&A with the four guests. Filmmaker J.J. Abrams was a surprise guest introducing the Chinese screening.
In his introduction at the Chinese, Abrams called “RRR” “a film I love and a filmmaker I so admire. … I love its exuberance. I love its friendship. I love its heart. I love what it says about fighting for what’s right. I love the music. I love the insanity. The fever-dream madness of this movie is more fun than you’ll have in a theater — (more) than I can imagine having in any other film.”
In a Variety story this week, the filmmaker and composer both talked about the creation of “Naatu Naatu” and how it fit into the film.
“I did not guess there would be this kind of response for this song, even in my dreams,” said Keeravani. “But as a paradoxical statement, it’s a dream coming true.”
The “RRR” filmmaking team has TikTok to thank, in part, not just for the global popularity of the song but how homemade clips set to “Naatu Naatu” propelled the movie’s U.S. domestic box-off success right out of the gate. Well before the film’s theatrical opening, TikTok users had latched onto a short clip of lead actors Ram Charan and N. T. Rama Rao Jr. doing the peculiar dance step that characterizes the choreography and attempting their own versions of it.
“When I envisioned the ‘Naatu Naatu’ song,” said Rajamouli, “while both of them (the actors) are great dancers, I didn’t want the steps to be so complicated that people can’t do it. It should be like any two people — whether it be friends, mother and daughter, father and son, two brothers or two sisters — would see it and feel like, ‘Let’s try this.’ And they did; millions and millions of people were trying to do the steps and posting on it. It became such a big phenomenon when we released the song, and it clearly (increased) public interest in the film.”
Keeravani says the beat has a great deal to do with the popularity — although it’s so fast that, like videography of a hummingbird’s wings, you almost have to slow it down to recognize it. “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.” He also points to his singers: “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.”
“Naatu Naatu” was recently named one of the 15 songs shortlisted for the best original song Oscar. However, “RRR” has no chance at winning the best foreign film Oscar, as India did not submit it as the country’s official selection. That omission has only increased the resolve among supporters of the film to see the film get vindicated with a nomination for best picture or best director on top of the strong shot at a best song nod.
At the Chinese Theatre the night before the Globes, Keeravani took in the thunderous crowd response and said, “It’s true that I have composed music for the movie ‘RRR,’ but the best music I have heard today is your laughs and applause… I wish to listen to that music on and on, again and again, and forever.”