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Disappointment and Relief: ‘RRR’ Ignored in Best Picture Oscar Category, Scores Best Original Song Nomination for ’Naatu Naatu’

Disappointment and Relief: ‘RRR’ Ignored in Best Picture Oscar Category, Scores Best Original Song Nomination for ’Naatu Naatu’

  • Also receiving nods at the 95th Academy Awards are Shaunak Sen’s documentary “All That Breathes,” and Kartiki Gonsalves’ documentary short “The Elephant Whisperers.”

Scores of Indians may be disappointed that the Telugu language film, “RRR” (Roudram, Ranam, Rudiram), was not nominated in the Best Picture Oscar category, despite the filmmakers’ expansive PR campaign and widespread expectations of fans. There may be also scores of Indians around the world who are relieved at the omission — saved from the embarrassment of having the “loud and over the top” film reflecting the artistic caliber of Indians on the film-world’s biggest stage.

Nevertheless, S.S. Rajamouli’s “RRR” made history this morning when “Naatu Naatu” became the first number from an Indian film to be nominated for Best Original Song. It will be quite an event when the song is very likely performed at the Academy Awards ceremony on March 12.

The foot-tapping number has already won the Golden Globe and the Critics Choice Award for best song. 

The nominations were announced in in Los Angeles by actors Riz Ahmed and Allison William. 

‘RRR’ U.S. distributor Variance Films campaigned in all major categories including best picture, best actor for its stars N.T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan, best supporting actor for Ajay Devgn, best dDirector, and best original sScreenplay among others, the Collider reported in October.

India received two other nominations as well. Shaunak Sen’s “All That Breathes” was included in the Documentary Feature Film category, while Kartiki Gonsalves’ “The Elephant Whisperers” was listed for Best Documentary Short. 

Set in 1920s India, “RRR” centers around two real-life Indian revolutionaries, Alluri Sitarama Raju (Charan) and Komaram Bheem (Rama Rao), their fictional friendship and their fight against the British Raj. It also stars Alia Bhatt, Ajay Devgn and Olivia Morris.

The New York Times noted that while “RRR” was “already a worldwide box office success when it was released in March, it has now become the rare Indian hit to catch on with American viewers outside the Indian diaspora, thanks to word-of-mouth social media buzz and an unusual theatrical rerelease strategy.”

Fans, critics, actors, filmmakers, and first-time Indian movie watchers have been praising the film for Rajamouli’s vision, high-octane fight sequences and Keeravaani’s rousing musical soundtrack. It is Rajamouli’s second film to attain success after “Baahubali: The Conclusion.”

Variety notes that the song is “a large part of why American audiences took an interest in the film in the first place, as a short clip of the song and the “hook step” dance performed by the lead actors which came out months before the movie went into U.S. release, became a TikTok phenomenon.” When the film finally reached American screens and audiences got to see” the full four-minute number, few were disappointed,” Variety said.  

However, “Naatu Naatu” will not be the first song written by Indian songwriters to pick up an Oscar. That honor was claimed at the 2019 Oscars by “Jai Ho,” from “Slumdog Millionaire.” Composer A.R. Rahman scored a double win that year, winning for the best score as well. But the film, directed by Danny Boyle, was a British production, despite its Indian setting.

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Sen’s documentary feature “All That Breathes,” follows siblings Mohammad Saud and Nadeem Shehzad, who have made it their mission to rescue and treat injured birds, especially the Black Kites. It is competing in the Best Documentary Feature Film category with ”All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” “Fire of Love,” “A House Made of Splinters” and “Navalny.” The documentary feature has won top awards at several festivals including Sundance and the Cannes Film Festival.

Directed by Gonsalves, and produced by Guneet Monga and Achin Jain, the 41-minute documentary short film “The Elephant Whisperers,” follows a family in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu who adopt two orphan baby elephants. It is pitted against “Haulout” (Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev); “How Do You Measure A Year” (Jay Rosenblatt); “The Martha Mitchell Effect” (Anne Alvergue and Beth Levison); and “Stranger At The Gate” (Joshua Seftel and Conall Jones).

Meanwhile, director Pan Nalin’s Gujarati film “Chhello Show” (Last Film Show) did not score a nomination in the Best International Feature category. The semi-autobiographical drama pays homage to the cinema of the past and is set against the backdrop of Indian films witnessing a massive transition from celluloid to digital. The film was chosen over the fan-favorite RRR as India’s official selection in the category. The selection received criticism as the film didn’t play at any major film festival except Tribeca. “It also attracted controversy when similarities were drawn between its plot and that of the Italian classic ‘Cinema Paradiso,” as reported by The Indian Express. The film was presented by producer Siddharth Roy Kapur, and received a brief theatrical run before debuting on Netflix.

Pakistan’s official entry “Joyland” also failed to secure a nomination.

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