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RRR’s long and extraordinary road to Oscars, Golden Globes: How a Telugu film became a shared global emotion

The Indian Express logo The Indian Express 13-01-2023 Justin Joseph Rao
© Provided by The Indian Express

In April 2022, at a press meet to celebrate Rs 1000 cr global box office milestone of RRR, filmmaker SS Rajamouli had expressed surprise at the kind of noise his historical epic was making in the West. Rajamouli, a celebrated Telugu filmmaker, delivering his third pan-India blockbuster, was completely unaware that he was at the cusp of global glory.

"What is significantly different is that I noticed with RRR is the number of western audiences that are liking the film. Even for the journalists to write about Baahubali 2, it took some time. But for RRR, within four-five days of its release, Deadline, Variety, New York Times' articles started coming out, the number of tweets coming out, particularly from the US-- that I never expected," Rajamouli had said.

Also Read |Ram Charan promises to dance to Naatu Naatu ’17 times’ with Jr NTR on Oscars stage: ‘If they give us the award, why not?’

On Wednesday, months after the film became a global juggernaut, RRR scripted history as it won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song. Though it missed out in the Best Non-English Language Film category at the award, lodging a win for the infectious MM Keeravani track Naatu Naatu has now furthered its chances of doing what was unthinkable at the time of its release: Bagging the Oscar.

A post shared by RRR Movie (@rrrmovie)

A post shared by RRR Movie (@rrrmovie)

A la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

National Award-winning filmmaker and former film critic Utpal Borpujari compares the euphoria of RRR to that of Ang Lee's 2000 smash hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The film, led by actors of Chinese ethnicity, was a sensation globally--but especially the Academy Awards, where it bagged 10 nominations and won four awards.

"Its journey has been quite fascinating to me. The way the Western film critics have lapped up the film is amazing- RRR has got all the elements of a typical Indian pot boiler. Big scale storytelling, songs, dance, reasonably good VFX. There have been films like these before in India across many languages, but they (the Americans) have discovered something suddenly and gone crazy over it.

"It is a phenomena like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, where the Western audience is finding it novel exotica. In RRR, because it is based on real characters, they are finding it more interesting. The fascinating mix of history with myth has become a good concoction for the west," Borpujari tells indianexpress.com.

Also Read |RRR at Oscars: How does Naatu Naatu’s win at Golden Globes impact chances of SS Rajamouli’s movie at Academy Awards

RRR has been shortlisted in the Best Original Song category at the upcoming Oscars. Though it wasn't selected as India's official entry and hence the Best International Film category is out of the picture, RRR makers are pushing aggressively for bigger nominations like the Best Picture and Best Director.

RRR's success defines Naatu Naatu's popularity

Sound designer Resul Pookutty, who had won the Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing for Slumdog Millionaire, says RRR's Golden Globe is a "huge win" as it bagged the honour beating "some of the biggest names in the music industry." It was competing against Taylor Swift’s “Carolina” Lady Gaga’s “Hold My Hand” from Top Gun: Maverick, and “Lift Me Up” from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, performed by Rihanna.

"It is the first Asian song to take the glory. I feel happy This win is actually paving the way and shows how people react to emotional connect in a film. I’m hoping we take the next Oscar for Best Song home this year with Naatu Naatu," Pookutty tells indianexpress.com.

Also Read |Naatu Naatu lyricist Chandrabose says he wrote 90 per cent of the song within half a day: ‘The rest 10 per cent took 1.7 years’

Naatu Naatu has had people across ethnicity, cultures and countries sit up and groove to its pulsating beats and wildly energetic choreography and dance by its two stars, Jr NTR and Ram Charan. Pookutty shares there isn't a particular sound that the West reacts to but it's the film that has connected with them, and hence their outpouring love for RRR and in turn, Naatu Naatu.

"I don’t think there is a particular sound that they react to more. I think it’s the way the film connected with them. I believe every song should have an emotional connection within the narrative and should be identifiable... Naatu Naatu worked that way. I see it’s a strong contender for the Oscar," he adds.

Minutes after RRR bagged its maiden Golden Globe, composer AR Rahman, who had scripted history with his multiple Oscar wins in 2007 for Slumdog Millionaire, encapsulated the win with just two words. Accompanied with a fire, smiley and victory emoticons, Rahman said the big moment was a "paradigm shift".

The bumps in path of RRR

A trade source shared with indianexpress.com that RRR's road to glory was riddled with bumps. The ambitious epic actioner, also one of the most expensive films costing over Rs 550 crore, had to face multiple delayed releases. From the initial planned 2020 opening, RRR finally hit the screens last year, which meant the makers took on heavy financial load of increased cost, massive marketing expenditure and the risk of recovery.

"Of course, Rajamouli was coming with RRR after Baahubali 2, but because of the delayed release, and at one point they stopped the release just before it was about to open because of the third wave, it became a more costly film. There was no doubt that it would go big-- but just how big was the question. I don't think anyone, including the RRR team, was aware of what was coming. The West reacted in way no one could predict. It is beyond numbers now, it has sort of become this shared cultural emotion," the source said.

Also Read |SS Rajamouli and MM Keeravani do Naatu Naatu hook step after RRR’s Golden Globe win, Rajinikanth pens congratulatory message

RRR's ascend to becoming an unmissable global phenomenon finds its roots in Netflix, where the film dropped in May 2022, enabling a wider audience to enjoy the spectacle from the comfort of their spaces. In the months that followed, Western audiences started trickling in, sharing tweets, posting videos, urging people to watch the film and be mesmerized. The hype around RRR kept building, as the biggest names from Hollywood and beyond surrendered to SS Rajamouli's vision-- and were left in awe.

RRR viewed for 73 million hours on Netflix

Monika Shergill, Vice President, Content, Netflix India, shared with indianexpress.com that RRR was viewed for "over 73 million hours" across the world within the first four weeks of its release and trended globally in 62 countries.

"It is incredibly exhilarating to witness such a historic moment for Indian entertainment! RRR was such a celebrated movie for Indians and we were confident that it would be a special one for viewers across the world too. The film was viewed for over 73 million hours across the world within the first four weeks of its release and trended globally in 62 countries across America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. ‘Naatu Naatu’s path-breaking win at the Golden Globes for Best Original Song proves what Netflix has always believed, that great stories can come from anywhere and be loved everywhere," Shergill says.

Also Read |DGA nominations: RRR director SS Rajamouli fails to make the cut at critical Oscar predictor

While the Oscar nominations will be announced on January 24, team RRR would hope to have its long and full of fan-fare Oscar campaign bear fruits. It isn't an easy campaign to run by any stretch. Millions are poured into the publicity of a film, to make it deem Oscar worthy, to make it irresistible to the Academy voting members.

When filmmaker Rima Das's Village Rockstar was selected as India's official entry to the Oscars in 2018, the director reportedly struggled with funds needed to run a successful Oscar campaign. Utpal Borpujari shares that is a "tough campaign" to run as a film competes with the best of the world to gain the "attention of the voters", but RRR seems to have in its stride what few Indian films had before: incredible buzz.

"The song really has a strong chance of winning the Oscar, because the buzz depends a lot on how the American critics react, it has a big impact on majority of the voting members, even though they are now diversified and spread across the world. After Golden Globes, I am quite sure that it will now win the best song at the Oscar. If RRR ends up with two nominations at the Oscar, I won't be surprised.

"What has helped RRR, apart from the fact that the producers have enough money to spend on publicity campaigns, is that the film is truly picking up buzz, it is a euphoria now. It really is at an advantageous position. I hope the American film critics now will try to discover more of the diverse Indian cinema, beyond the exotica," Borpujari adds.

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