Final evening, India made international historical past when the smash-hit track “Naatu Naatu” from the Telegu-language (AKA Tollywood) movie RRR (2022) turned the primary Indian track to win an Oscar for “Finest Unique Music” on the ninety fifth Annual Academy Awards. However some who celebrated the monumental victory additionally lamented the obvious absence of South Asian dancers onstage, not to mention South Indian performers — in addition to the movie’s repeated misidentification as a Bollywood manufacturing.
These omissions are notably obvious within the context during which “Naatu Naatu” seems within the movie. In RRR, directed by S. S. Rajamouli, the quantity follows a scene during which an English man hurls racist insults at one of many leads, Komaram Bheem (performed by NT Rama Rao Jr), for being one of many solely Indian males current at a colonial-era British the Aristocracy celebration. The English man asks Bheem what “these brown buggers” find out about artwork and dance whereas demonstrating basic Western ballroom kinds. Bheem is rescued by the opposite lead, A Rama Raju (performed by Ram Charan), who asks the English man if he is aware of “Naatu” earlier than the pair jumps straight right into a lightning-speed dance routine set to an lively percussive music quantity.
The “choreographers” for the Oscars efficiency had been Napoleon and Tabitha Dumo, recognized collectively as Nappytabs, from So You Assume You Can Dance. Whereas neither Nappytabs nor the Academy of Movement Image Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) have responded to Hyperallergic’s request for the total checklist of final evening’s performers, a number of social media customers reported that none of them had been of South Asian descent. The dancers who portrayed the lead characters alongside the movie’s playback singers Kaala Bhairava and Rahul Sipligunj are confirmed to be Billy Mustapha, a Lebanese-Canadian dancer, and Jason Glover, an American dancer. Each Mustapha and Glover seem to have entered the highlight by So You Assume You Can Dance.
Criticism started pouring in after one of many taking part American dancers, Lauren Gottlieb, shared a now-deleted Instagram put up of a rehearsal. A TikTok person named Maheetha Bhardhwaj (@dancing_uro_doc) posted a viral video explaining her disappointment with the Academy for his or her resolution, encapsulating a majority of the considerations from the South Asian diaspora.
The track’s choreography and devices are rooted within the South Indian “Kuthu” and “Teenmaar” kinds that originate from the states of Tamil Nadu and Telangana. “Kuthu,” that means “punch” in Tamil, and “Teenmaar,” that means “three sounds” in Telegu, are lesser-known casual folks genres that make the most of percussion devices and vigorous dance strikes.
Music supervisor Divya Jethwani (@adaywithdivya) additionally took to Instagram to precise her dismay with the choice of what she described as “Brown-passing” dancers in lieu of these with South Asian heritage for the stage efficiency.
In an interview with Hyperallergic, Jethwani, a co-founder at an rising label referred to as Namah Music Group that works with South Asian expertise internationally, stated that the importance of the movie scene’s anti-colonial stance “was principally fully wiped once they had Brown-passing individuals having their palms up as in the event that they performed two Indian revolutionaries.”
“That simply killed it for thus many individuals and it simply took away what that story truly meant and why ‘RRR’ deserved to be acknowledged the way in which that it was acknowledged,” Jethwani continued.
Jethwani, together with a number of information shops, additionally famous how each “Naatu Naatu” and RRR had been repeatedly misidentified as Bollywood productions as an alternative of Tollywood productions. Jimmy Kimmel even slipped and stated “Bollywood bombshell” on the finish of his Oscars monologue because the “Naatu Naatu” dancers forcibly ushered him off stage. “Bollywood” is a portmanteau of Bombay (now Mumbai), the house base for Hindi-language cinema manufacturing, and Hollywood; whereas “Tollywood” is the same portmanteau however for Telangana, the place a majority of Telegu-language cinema is produced. Bollywood and North Indian leisure media have eclipsed South Indian productions globally, leaving a little bit of leeway for the confusion on prime of the same names.
When requested about this, Jethwani advised Hyperallergic that “it principally simply boils all the way down to not having a cultural guide that is aware of and understands the Indian neighborhood and its nuances inside cultures, languages, individuals, and life.”
“No person was within the room to cease this from taking place,” Jethwani said. “I haven’t made any contact with Nappytabs, however I’ve been in communication with the Academy (AMPAS) and there’s conversations about how we are able to treatment this. I believe an apology might be the one factor that they’ll do now in hindsight.”