RRR’s ‘Naatu Naatu’, ‘The Elephant Whisperers’ win at Oscars: When India shone at the Academy Awards

RRR’s ‘Naatu Naatu’, ‘The Elephant Whisperers’ win at Oscars: When India shone at the Academy Awards

RRR’s ‘Naatu Naatu’, ‘The Elephant Whisperers’ win at Oscars: When India shone at the Academy Awards

It is India’s day at the Oscars. “Naatu Naatu”, the song from the Telugu superhit RRR, has created history. It won the Best Original Song award becoming the first song from an Indian film to bag the coveted trophy at the 95th Academy Awards being held in Los Angeles, United States.  That’s not all. “The Elephant Whisperers”, directed by Kartiki Gonsalves and produced by Guneet Monga, won Best Documentary Short Subject.

Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone was attending as a presenter. She is the third Indian to present an Oscar after Persis Khambatta and Priyanka Chopra.

Also read: Oscars 2023 LIVE: When ‘Naatu Naatu’ created history

The Dolby Theatre reverberated with “Natu Natu” as singers Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava performed the viral track. Padukone introduced the performance, “Do you know how to Naatu? You are about to.”

“We’re blessed that #RRRMovie is the first feature film to bring INDIA’s first ever #Oscar in the Best Song Category with #NaatuNaatu! No words can describe this surreal moment,” tweeted Team RRR after winning the award.

Indian composer MM Keeravaani (R) and Indian musician Chandrabose accept the Oscar for Best Music (Original Song) for ‘Naatu Naatu’ from RRR onstage during the 95th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on 12 March 12. AFP

What a Monday to wake up to. As we celebrate the two big wins, we go down memory lane and look back at the time India shone at the Oscars.

India’s first Oscar

In 1983, Bhanu Athaiya made history, becoming the first Indian to bag the Academy. She won the award for Best Costume Design for her work in Gandhi (1982), the historical drama based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi. It was shared with John Mollo.

Upon winning the award, Athaiya said the win was “too good to believe,” before thanking director Richard Attenborough for “focusing world attention on India”.

Bhanu Athaiya became the first Indian to win an Oscar for Costume Design for her work in Gandhi (1982). Image courtesy: Oscar.org

Born in Maharashtra’s Kolpahur, Athiya wanted to become an artist but later, she thought costume design was a more practical option. In a career spanning nearly six decades, Athaiya worked in 100 films. She made her debut in Raj Khosla’s C.I.D. (1956) and went on to work on iconic movies such as Pyaasa (1957), Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962), Guide (1965), among others. One of the last films she was associated with was Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Swades (2004).

Also read: How Bhanu Athaiya, India’s first Oscar winner, changed the landscape of costume designing in the country

Athaiya won two National Awards for Gulzar’s Lekin (1990) and Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan.

When Satyajit Ray accepted an Oscar from a hospital bed

The Oscars are considered the highest honour in cinema and it was only befitting when Satyajit Ray, one of India’s most proclaimed filmmakers, was awarded one. At the 64th Academy Awards in 1992, Ray was given an Honorary Award for his lifetime of achievement in filmmaking.

However, Ray was ill and hospitalised in Kolkata and could not fly to Los Angeles for the ceremony. However, a video message from him was played at Dolby Theatre after Audrey Hepburn announced the award. She described his work as a “rare mastery of the art of motion pictures and his profound humanism which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world”.

In the video, Ray was seen lying on a hospital bed with the golden statuette held in his hand. “It’s an extraordinary experience for me to be here tonight to receive this magnificent award, certainly the best achievement of my moviemaking career,” he said.

Also read: Ray-esque | Throwback to thirty years ago when Satyajit Ray became the first Indian to receive the Oscar award

Speaking about the impact of American cinema on his career, Ray said, “I have learnt everything about the craft of cinema from the making of American films. I’ve been watching American films very carefully over the years and I love them for how they entertain and then later, loved them for what they taught… so I express my gratitude to the American cinema, towards the Motion Picture Association who has given me this award and who made me feel so proud.”

Less than a month after Ray received the Oscar, Ray passed away on 23 April 1992 at the age of 70. Until today, he is the only Indian to have received that award.

Ray was also given the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour in 1992.

Graphic: Pranay Bhardwaj

Resul Pookutty’s sound of magic

Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, a drama about the life of a Mumbai street child, stole the show at the 2009 Oscar awards, winning in eight of the ten categories it was nominated in.

Among the winners was Indian sound designer Resul Pookutty. He won the award for Best Sound Mixing along with British counterparts Ian Tapp and Richard Pryke for their work in the film.

Resul Pookutty won the award for Achievement in Sound Editing for ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ with (left) Ian Tapp and (right) Richard Pryke during the 81st Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, California. AFP

A beaming and emotional Pookutty dedicated his award to billions of Indians. “I dedicate this award to my country. This is not just a sound award but a piece of history that has been handed over to me,” he said.

“I come from a country and civilisation that gave the world the word that precedes silence and is followed by more silence. That word is Om,” he added.

That year, Pookutty also won a BAFTA (British Academy Film Awards) for Best Sound. He also won a National Award for the 2009 Malayalam film Keralavarma Pazhassiraja.

Kerala-born Pookutty is a graduate of Pune’s prestigious Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). He has worked across the Indian film industry. Some of the big Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu movies include Ra.One (2011), Highway (2014), the Rajinikanth-starrer Kochadaiiyaan (2014) and Pushpa: The Rise (2021).

Making history with AR Rahman

There is no one quite like AR Rahman, known popularly as the “Mozart of Madras”. At the 2009 Oscars, he became the first Indian to win two Academy Awards for his work in Slumdog Millionaire. He bagged the Best Original Song for the catchy number Jai Ho and Best Original Score. Another song from the film O Saaya also won a nomination in the Best Original Song category.

Composer AR is the only India to win two Academy Awards. AFP

“I am excited a terrified,” the soft-spoken musician said after he won the first Oscar. “The last time I felt like this was during my marriage.”

After winning the second award, he thanked Danny Boyle and the people of Mumbai. “The essence of the film which is about optimism and the power of hope in the lives, and all my life I had a choice of hate and love. I chose love and I’m here. God bless.”

Rahman made his debut in 1992 in Mani Ratman’s Roja for which he won the National Award. In a career spanning more than three decades, he has composed music for Tamil and Hindi movies and continues to be popular.

The quiet genius of Gulzar

It was Pookutty and Rahman who stole the show at the 2009 Oscars. But it is often forgotten that veteran poet and lyricist Gulzar shared the Best Original Song award with Rahman. The lyrics for Jai Ho were penned by Gulzar.

Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor, music director AR Rahman and poet Gulzar were all part of Slumdog Millionaire, which bagged eight Oscars. Gulzar wrote the lyrics for Jai Ho. AFP

A decade after he won the award, Gulzar said, “It was because of AR Rahman the song won the award. Although Sukhwinder Singh also contributed to making the song a hit by putting a lot of energy into it. Overall, I would say we all agree that it was because of the music maestro A R Rahman that the song won the coveted prize.”

In 2010, Gulzar won a Grammy for Best Song for Jai Ho. The evergreen artist has won the National Award on several occasions.

The big misses

A big-ticket film that went to the Oscars was Aamir Khan-starrer Lagaan. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 74th Academy Awards but did not win it.

The other films from India nominated in the category were Mother India (1957) and Salaam Bombay! (1988). None of them won.

With inputs from agencies

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