From obscurity to the Oscars

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13 March 2023

"I am an Australian, playing an Australian, in a movie called 'Australia'....... not nominated"

- Hugh Jackman, funnily laments about how Hollywood rewards the exotic and ignores the typecasts, while hosting in one of the Oscars show

How long did it take for the "Best song" category award to finally come to its rightful home! The Indian productions, in all its variants, often accused and derided for their neddless cutaways to unnecessary song and dance routines, surprisingly never stood a chance to being nominated in that one category that they are best known for, summarily dismissed and constantly stereotyped about.... but one that it REALLY knows how to do! Plots... stories... scripts... acting... VFX.... the rest of the world can gladly claim upmanship, but songs.... step aside, rest of the world! none could match/better the continual bursts of unbounded energy put on scintillating display than in Indian songs... The colors, the choreography, the music, the background, the performances, the expressions... and those are just on the screen... What about the energy of the auditorium when a top dancing star starts performing jaw dropping dance moves to the pulsating beats and bewitching rhythms.... Indian song is a wholesome experience, on and off the screen, and what better song to be awarded the highest honor in international arena than one that truly captures the wild spirit of the Indian Song in the catchily composed and aptly written "naaTu naaTu"... This is truly an of the people, by the people and for the people award, and for once, Hollywood chooses populism over elitism!

There can be endless analysis for why something failed, but no amount of dissection is enough to explain for why something succeeds. Right place? Right time? Right moment? Right moves? Right actors? Right music? Right lyrics? Right singing? However the global embrace of "naaTu naaTu" can be explained in a succint way - all of the above. It had all of those and PURE JOY! Even the reply to the snarky Englishman ridiculing the "disgusting, filthy" nature of the dance, is given in such a wholesome fashion, that the song has nothing but positivity radiating all around it. The fallen ones laugh out in exhaustion, the tired ones look on in admiration, the dancing ones go all out in competition... Not since "Footloose" has dance been celebrated to this degree... Though this all seems quite exotic and therefore irresistible and attractive to the foreign audience, the native ones that have been steadily fed on a staple diet of dance routines in their movies too found "naaTu naaTu" just as undeniably eye-popping, foot-tapping and in some cases even hip-shaking. While the placement of the song, the performances by the actors, the superb choreography all do gild the lily, the journey of it started at the desk of Keeravani, who, ironically, was never known for his out and out mass beats.

"naaTu naaTu" is a curious mix of EDM (Electronic Dance Music) and, well, "naaTu", where the beats are pulsing, throbbing, rhythmic and low key. As against the usual for the mass numbers to amp up the sound levels, the sound engineering has been done really well here ensuring that the accoustics of the song do not dominate the decibel levels, keeping it a little over simmering point but never going past the spilling mark. Success of a song is when it can be repeated, reproduced and replayed any number of times and "naaTu naaTu" never tires itself out nor overstays its welcome even after innumerable playbacks in a multitude of languages, thanks in large part to its arrangement and engineering. And just when the song begins to wind up, there is one last burst of energy (in the "muktaayimpu") when the tempo gradually rises and reaches a crescendo, as the dance catches up to the music and the music matches up to the moves. "naaTu naaTu" thus ends on a high. The bright duel between the "Dappu" and "drum" brought out in the beautiful sound mix, interspersed with the screeching violins, and stirring strings, makes the mass song such a rare aural treat.

Keeravani's career never scaled the peaks that he truly deserved. His penchant and sensibilities of trying to find the melody even in a mind-numbing mass exercise didn't exactly endear him to the directors who were stuck in the steady gear of the fast beat dance moves, and even the few or so foot-tappers that he had done had his unmistable stamp of melodic groove. While his compatriots usually struggled hard to hide the melody phrases in mass numbers, worried that their mere presence would reduce the machismo of the song, Keeravani unabashedly had them front and center, marrying mass and melody carrying a nary and turning a stern blind eye to the business. And that's why it is only fitting that he received the highest recognition for a song, that as mass-y as it is melodious, as melodious as it is macho, and as macho as it groovy. Gripping the Academy award firmly in his hand, he surely has thrown the gauntlet to his detractors and naysayers, who claimed that he can never a mass music director, replying them in the same words as the intro of his song "not flamenco, not salsa brother! do you know naaTu?". Now, top that!

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