The 95th Academy Awards had a special treat for fans of the Indian blockbuster “RRR” as host Jimmy Kimmel referenced the viral hit “Naatu Naatu” in his opening monologue. However, it was much more than a mere mention, as Kimmel joked that winners would be danced off stage if they exceeded their 45-second speech limit. A group of dancers then showed up to perform the catchy dance hit around Kimmel, much to the delight of the audience.
In a historic moment, the Indian blockbuster RRR’s song “Naatu Naatu” has won the Oscar for Best Original Song, beating two songs featuring American pop megastars. While it’s not the first Indian number to win the award, it is the first from an Indian production.
The rollicking dance hit is part of the Telugu-language film set in 1920s colonial India, where it is featured in a marathon dance-off filmed in front of the Mariinsky Palace in Ukraine before the Russian invasion. The song’s composer, M. M. Keeravani, used duffs, an Indian skin drum, for the main beats, adding in mandolins for the melody. The lyricist Chandrabose, who is known for his work in Tollywood (Telugu cinema), wrote most of the words in about an hour.
During his acceptance speech, Keeravani expressed his joy at winning the award and shared that he grew up listening to the Carpenters. He then performed a rendition of the group’s song “Top of the World,” with lyrics about his achievement.
But what does “Naatu Naatu” mean? According to Keeravani, the word “naatu” means “ethnic”: something that is unique, completely ours, and belongs to our own identity. The word “naatu” also means “country,” and the song is about everything that happened in our own country, in our own village; something we cherish for life.
The Oscars ceremony included a performance of the song, complete with its rapid-kick choreography and roguish suspender snapping. The song beat others from “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” and “Tell It Like a Woman.”
While Rihanna’s “Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” was a front-runner for the award, it was Keeravani’s song that ultimately won. Lady Gaga also performed a power ballad titled “Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun,” while the nominated song from “Everything Everywhere” was “This Is a Life” by the indie-rock band Son Lux. Diane Warren’s “Applause” from “Tell It Like a Woman” was also nominated, making it her 14th nomination in the same category. Although she didn’t win, Warren received a Governors Award earlier in the season, which is the Oscar equivalent of a lifetime achievement honor.
“Naatu Naatu” was also performed live at the Oscars, alongside the other nominees. The live rendition featured singers Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava, along with a troupe of dancers, including Lauren Gottlieb, who delivered a rousing performance. Actress Deepika Padukone introduced the performance, stunning in black Louis Vuitton, and had to pause a couple of times due to the audience’s cheers.
Although we don’t know if any of the winners exceeded their speech limit, no one was “Naatu Naatu’d” off the stage, which was somewhat disappointing for fans who were hoping for another lively performance. Nevertheless, the performance was an excellent effort, securing the second-best spot of the night. With Kimmel’s hilarious opening and the electrifying performances of “Naatu Naatu” and other nominees, the 95th Academy Awards were truly a night to remember.