The Hullabaloo Over Naatu Naatu
Naatu Naatu wins the Golden Globe
Truth be told, I went to watch RRR at a multiplex when it was released but could hardly understand what was going on except that two friends bond along the way. One of them, a proud Dalit, is out to rescue his kid sister and the two friends go on a long, never-ending circus of singing and dancing and fighting with every primitive weapon you can imagine in this ‘rescue’ mission.
After that, what keeps happening is a happy blur and my limited intelligence asked me what made me shell out a slice of my diminishing income to watch the film which reminded me of old Hollywood extravaganzas like Ben Hur, or, The Ten Commandments. This film turned out to be a more technically advanced and modernised version of these classics, however, minus a convincing storyline.
It has a very complicated one with a hundred sub-plots walking out of the wall and stepping into the electrifying action. The song-dance numbers the film is replete with, are the reason for the story and not the other way round. They are also one of the prime reasons for the film’s historic popularity among the masses irrespective of age, sex, class, language, community, race and status.
So, when the news of the song Naatu Naatu from the film reached me, I was quite surprised and happy at the same time. Surprised because this number became the first ever song number from an Asian film to have bagged the Golden Globe Award for the Best Original Song for Film, and happy because it was an Indian film though not a Bollywood film that had won at the 80th Golden Globe Awards.
So, I sat myself down to watch the song-dance number on YouTube at once. Naatu Naatu is more about the dance performed by the two heroes Jr. NTR and Ram Charan. If you take the dance out of the song, the song will drown in a sea of anonymity, unsung and unseen. This is a fact many will concur with.
The song is composed by MM Keeravani whose face adorns the pages of every single media in the country , as he holds the Golden Globe aloft in one hand and makes a thumbs up sign with the other. The song had some tough contenders including compositions of international superstars like Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Rihanna.
The dance number is magical, spellbinding and mesmerising, pushing you to watch it again and again. You are never weary of watching the completely synchronized gyrations, leaps, twists and turns many times. The smiles of the two dancers drive home the point that they are happy performing Naatu Naatu, which in Hindi means Naacho Naacho and in English means Dance Dance. It is as if they are born to perform this number to surprise their White audience, and also to make fun of the White man in the script who first tries to push them away to make them stop, and then tries to compete with them only to fall flat on the ground.
It would be in the fitness of things to point out that MM Keeravani of Telugu cinema and MM Kreem of Hindi film music are the same person. He chose to use the latter abbreviation to compose music for Hindi films. For Tamil films, he uses the pseudonym Marakathamani. He is the cousin of director S. S. Rajamouli.
Atanu Roy, a leading film journalist of the Bengali media says that the music Keeravani has composed for RRR which includes Naatu Naatu, cannot hold a candle to his immortal music composed for Hindi films. Among these, the top favourite Roy holds close to his heart is the ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’ number ‘tum mile, dil khile aur jeene ko kya chahiye’. This song has become an inseparable part of our musical memory dating back to the 1990s.
Kreem has already bagged other awards such as a Saturn Award nomination, a National Film Award, eight Filmfare Awards and 11 Nandi Awards. “But if you place his hits for Hindi films with which we are more acquainted, you will be convinced that the music of Naatu Naatu cannot hold a candle to his hit compositions from films like Jism (Jaadu Hai Nasha Hai), Saaya (O Sathiya), Zakhm (Gali Mein Aaj Chand Nikla), Sur (Kabhi Shaam Dhale) and many more” says Roy. He has also written the lyrics to many films in the South for Tamil and Telugu films.
The detailed reports on this win are underlined by how the dance was choreographed, timed, rehearsed, performed and perfected more than how the music of the song was composed, how the lyrics were written, how the actors were taught to perform in perfect harmony with the beats and how many people were involved in bringing out the perfect dance number.
Junior N.T.R is reported to have said in an interview that Rajamouli was completely absorbed in sustaining that the two dancers were completely in sync. “He used to record the whole thing, replay it, freeze every frame to observe how our legs, hands and feet were moving. If there was even the slightest difference, we would do a retake. He wanted us to be in perfect sync. It took some 18 retakes before we finally got it right,” said Junior N.T.R.
Naatu Naatu is composed by M.M. Keeravani and the original Telugu lyrics are written by Chandrabose. Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava have sung the energetic track. K.D. Harisankar, Yazin Nizar, and Vishal Mishra have sung the dubbed versions. The high-octane dance sequence of the song was choreographed by Prem Rakshith.
It took 20 days to complete shooting the song-dance number, after 30 days of rehearsals. Only three hook steps were approved out of 110 planned. Wait, there is more. It took 60 days to choreograph the steps, this may have taken a complete film to be shot, edited and certified under normal conditions.
But there is much more in the back story than appears on the surface. The the Naatu Naatu song was shot on location in Ukraine. Says Rajamouli, “Actually, it is the Ukrainian President Zelensky’s palace. It is known as the Mariinskyi Palace. There is a Parliament right beside the palace. Luckily, they gave us permission to shoot because the Ukrainian president was once a television actor.
“Interestingly, this man had acted as the President in a TV series before becoming the President. We had gone there to shoot some crucial scenes. When we were shooting, I had no idea about the issues that soon escalated into a war. It was only after I returned and looking at things now, did I understand the seriousness of the issue.”
In the midst of all this praise for the hard work that went behind the visualisation and the choreography of the song number much more than on the song itself, there are some negative comments coming from, from veteran film critics.
For example, veteran film critic Saibal Chatterjee says, “My two cents on the ‘mighty’ RRR. It is what Manmohan Desai’s Dharam Veer would look like if it were made today with all the VFX money can buy. Only the 1977 Hindi blockbuster did not appropriate tales of Dalit/ tribal heroes to serve a majoritarian world view, so it wasn’t as pernicious.”
However, if one takes this song-dance number out of the film, it stands out as a satiric comment on the White “supremos” who crowd the scene in which the dance has been picturised. We see long-gowned beautiful ‘White beauties’ being charmed and carried over enough to join in the fun in a function organized for and by the British.
The beauties join with their pink-and-white flowing gowns and try to copy the movements of the two macho young men smiling and oozing charm with every movement, which one young man, also White, does not like. But when he cannot dissuade the ladies, he tries to join the fun and copy the performance of the two men but fails miserably.
There does not seem to be any accountability on either side, more or less keeping the power-imbalance intact between the British and the Indian subjects. The two young men throw in their seductive, sensational masala into the faces of the mesmerised audience time and again with their macho energies. That is what Naatu Naatu boils down to.