India celebrates as RRR song, The Elephant Whisperers win Oscar

A historic night for Indian cinema at the 95th Academy Awards in Los Angeles.

Indians are celebrating a historic night at the Oscars after a breakout hit song from the action movie RRR and a short documentary, The Elephant Whisperers, win at the Oscars.

“Naatu Naatu” won the award for the best original song, making history as the first homemade movie from the South Asian country to win the honour.

The song – a fast-paced number that has found fans all over the world, spawned a TikTok challenge and has millions of views on YouTube – won a standing ovation when it was performed at the 95th Academy Awards in Los Angeles.

“No words can describe this surreal moment. Dedicating this to all our amazing fans across the world. THANK YOU!!,” the Twitter account for RRR posted.

A performance of the song “Naatu Naatu” at the Oscars 2023 [Chris Pizzello/AP]

Television images showed people dancing to the song in the streets, minutes after the award was announced, as #NaatuNaatu became a top trend on Twitter. The song also won the Golden Globes earlier this year.

“The popularity of ‘Naatu Naatu’ is global. It will be a song that will be remembered for years to come,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted on Twitter, congratulating the team behind the song.

“Entire India is proud. They have brought India to the world stage,” Prudhvi Chandra, one of the singers of “Naatu Naatu”, told the India Today news channel.

In the film, made in the south Indian language of Telugu, and directed by SS Rajamouli, “Naatu Naatu” begins when the two leads, played by Ram Charan and NT Rama Rao Jr, flaunt their dance skills after being bullied as the only Indian people invited to a British party in colonial times.

When a young British man aims racist insults at the leads, they decide to educate him using the song “Naatu Naatu”.

During the scene, which was filmed at Ukraine’s grand Mariinskyi Palace, everyone at the party, including the scoffing British man, tries to master the moves.

At the Oscars, composer MM Keeravani burst into song while accepting the award on stage, along with songwriter Chandrabose.

“I feel this is about just the beginning of everything so that the world – particularly the Western World – focuses more on Indian music and Asian music, which is long due,” Keeravani said backstage after winning the award.

Kartiki Gonsalves, who won for The Elephant Whisperers, is the first Indian director to win in the category as well as the first Indian ever to win in any directing category.

Kartiki Gonsalves, left, and Guneet Monga pose with the award for best documentary short film for "The Elephant Whisperer" in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday
Kartiki Gonsalves, left, and Guneet Monga pose with the award for best documentary short film for The Elephant Whisperer at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles [Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP]

Indians had won Oscars previously, but no Indian film had won an Academy Award before Sunday night.

The Elephant Whisperers is about an Indigenous couple in southern India who adopt an orphaned baby elephant and care for him.

Gonsalves dedicated the Oscar “to my motherland India” and thanked the subjects of her documentary for sharing their tribal knowledge. “I stand here today to speak for the sacred bond between us and our natural world,” she said.

“We just win the first ever Oscar for an Indian Production!,” producer Guneet Monga tweeted. “Two women did this! I am still shivering.”

In another tweet, Modi congratulated the two filmmakers for the honour. “Their work wonderfully highlights the importance of sustainable development and living in harmony with nature,” he wrote.

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