March 29, 2023


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Indians divided over ‘Natu Natu’ craze

3 min read

Before “RRR”, director SS Rajamouli had box-office smashes like the two-parter “Baahubali”, which proved how adept he is at making hits. But among Indian audiences, there is a deep divide between those who applaud that the rest of the world has woken up to its brilliance and those who are horrified that a “dubba” – or hollow film – is being appreciated.

I heard it from my own Indian friends and relatives who reached out to ask: What are they missing? Reports of audience members dancing to the Oscar-nominated song “Natu Natu” at Hollywood’s iconic Chinese Theater horrified these purists. But if you embrace what Rajamouli is doing, “Natu Natu” — which is not really the best song in an Indian or Telugu film, even “RRR” somehow captured the zeitgeist, just as the film itself did.

“Natu Natu” comes from “Tollywood” meaning Telugu cinema, Bollywood’s regional cousin, Hindi cinema from Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay. Interestingly, Western audiences are waking up to “Natu Natu” just as Bollywood films have backed away from having such numbers. This movement peaked when audiences worldwide became more aware of Bollywood musicals with 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire”. AR Rahman and Gulzar, both known on the Indian national stage, won the original song Oscar for “Jai Ho” and although “Slumdog” was a British production, many of Indian origin were proud of the film.

Even 10 years ago, 2013’s “Chennai Express” ended with a banger called “The Lungi Dance” which became a national hit. The few numbers produced since then are forgettable. Bollywood films on their own have not pulled the audiences as they used to, while regional films – including Telugu films – have stepped into the breach

Telugu has provided some cinematic gems throughout history, films that have been so admired by the rest of the country that other regions and even Bollywood have copied the songs and films. (Don’t panic: Imitation is considered a form of flattery, as only good films are copied.) Going back nearly 40 years, there was “Shankarabharanam,” which had a non-pro lead, and the film was loaded. With some truly moving moments and songs. Alternatively there are songs like “omelet kavala, vodu gasu” (loosely translated: do you eat an omelette? No, it gives me gas).

The lyrics to “Natu Natu”, which means “dance dance” are also fun, telling people to “Nacho like a green pepper / Nacho like a sharp dagger / Make your heart beat faster…”

To his fans in India, a regional film from a state that doesn’t have the cachet of Satyajit Ray is a source of pride, not just in Hollywood, but a smash all over the world – setting records in Japan, for example. .

Those who understand the language are getting attention “RRR”. By raising the quality of regional film production, be it through cinematography
or choreography, it is not surprising that Indian films are attracting international attention. As for “Natu Natu,” perhaps it’s just a touch exotic when the dance sequence was filmed in Kiev, Ukraine, before the war broke out, and the two personable leads don’t wear sarongs but regular western clothes.

Indians may have had mixed reactions to “RRR”, but the international success of its signature song could swing the pendulum back to the musical. It’s inevitably making copies, at least: the latest Shah Rukh Khan hit, “Pathan”, has fans dancing in the aisles during the song “Jhum Jo Pathan”.

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