‘This One Hurts’: ‘Naatu Naatu’ Fans Slam Oscars Over Performance of Historic ‘Best Song’ During Show
The performance and win were historic and incredible — but was missing a key component, fans say: South Asians.
India had a historic day at the 95th Academy Awards ceremony this year when RRR won the Oscar for the Best Original Song “Naatu Naatu”—becoming the first-ever song from an Indian film to win the prize. However, the global success was marred for many Indians by the lack of representation during the televised performance of the song at the global stage on the award night, outside the singers.
As the singers Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava recreated the sensational song on stage, a troupe of more than 20 dancers performed on stage.
During the televised performance, not only did the Oscars decide to work with non-Indian choreographers Napolean & Tabitha Dumo, none of the dancers on stage were of South Asian descent. The two lead dancers in the song Ram Charan and Jr NTR did not perform on the award night. Instead, two lead dancers, Billy Mustapha, and Jason Glover— who do not belong to the South Asian heritage — were passed off as being Indians on the stage.
While Mustapha is a Lebanese Canadian dancer, Glover is American. The dancers dressed up as NTR and Charan and performed on a dance number which strongly is a representation of anti-colonialism. The only person from the list of performers who was the closest link to India was Lauren Gottlieb—an American actor and dancer who has worked in various Hindi-language films. such as ABCD: Any Body Can Dance (2013).
“Naatu Naatu” was not only sensation for its lyrics or just the beat, but also for its ‘banger’ performance by Jr NTR and Ram Charan when their characters in the movie take on a dance challenge against a Westerner and win. Jr NTR told The Juggernaut, the original actors didn’t want to take part in the performance to keep the focus on the singers. Many were disappointed that nobody from the culture was there on stage to represent the song.
‘How is this okay?’
One TikTok Dr. Maheetha Bharadwaj, under the handle @dancing_uro_doc, expressed her disappointment online about the fact that not a single South Indian person, or a Telugu, person will be dancing on Naatu Naatu—a song which highlights the folk dance form, known as “Dappankuthu”, from Southern India.
“Naatu Naatu will be performed at the Oscars and not a single South Asian, let alone a South Indian, let alone Telugu person is going to be dancing. How is this okay?” she says.
So, you are taking a song that was developed by the people of various parts of South India—a culture—and you are representing them and you’re bringing them and you’re honoring them on international stage and you’re not having a single South Asian, let alone a single South Indian or Tamil or Telugu dancer dancing this? It’s 2023.
@dancing_uro_doc, Tik Tok
RRR, a Telugu language film, is from the Telugu language film industry—a segment of Indian cinema that is dedicated to making motion pictures in Telugu language that is spoken in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Although the Hindi language film industry—”Bollywood”—is widely known and mistaken to represent India as a whole, Telugu cinema is the largest film industry in India in terms of box-office.
While the Telugu film industry if often overshadowed by Bollywood, Bharadwaj also believes that the industry was also often mocked in India and internationally.
“To take a culture that has historically faced erasure and mockery even in India, to bring it onto an international platform, and then what are we doing? Erasing the people that contributed to that culture,” Bharadwaj said.
She also believes that the best thing the Academy could’ve done is to get the original crew or the choreographer that helped choreograph that dance “to dance that dance”.