With “Naatu Naatu”, the hit dance track from ”RRR”, “All That Breathes” and “The Elephant Whisperers” up for an Oscar, the 95th Academy Awards could well be India’s moment to shine at perhaps the most glittering of all showbiz stages.
The Oscar ceremony will be held early Monday morning (India time) at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
While ”Naatu Naatu” has been shortlisted for Original Song, ”All That Breathes” is in the running for Documentary Feature and ”The Elephant Whisperers” for Documentary Short, the first time that India-made productions have earned so many nominations.
Fans hope the buzz translates into an Oscar, but India will make its presence felt on stage nonetheless. “Naatu Naatu” composer MM Keeravani and singers Rahul Sipligunj-Kaala Bhairava will be on stage for a live performance of the song in true Academy tradition of giving a platform to all five Original Song nominees.
Besides, actor Deepika Padukone will present an award at the star-spangled ceremony, which has tried to be more inclusive over the years following controversies of being #toowhite.
“RRR” lead stars Ram Charan and Jr NTR and director S S Rajamouli will be in the audience to cheer for the team.
“Naatu Naatu”, the foot tapping fun number from the Rajamouli film, competes with “Tell It Like a Woman” from the movie of the same name, ”Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick”, ”Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and ”This Is a Life” from “Everything Everywhere All at Once”.
The song, which also won a Golden Globe, is an award season sensation in Hollywood, recalling the wave created by A R Rahman’s ”Jai Ho” from ”Slumdog Millionaire”. Rahman, Gulzar and Resul Pookutty had scripted history by claiming three of the statuettes from the film’s eight wins in 2009.
‘Naatu Naatu’ celebrates the inclusive spirit of dance and bonhomie and features Charan and NTR matching steps to its catchy rhythm. The song translates to bucolic in Telugu and demonstrates the spirit of fun in country music over 4.35 breathless minutes of song and dance. “Tell It Like a Woman”, the film, also has an India connection as one of the seven pieces in the anthology film is directed by India’s Leena Yadav.
Holding up the documentary section are “All that Breathes” by Shaunak Sen and “The Elephant Whisperers” by Kartiki Gonsalves, both exploring the myriad challenges to the environment and their impact.
Sen’s climate change documentary ”All That Breathes” landed an Oscar nomination in the Documentary Feature Film category on the back of a successful award season. In 2022, it won the ‘World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary’ at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival and the Golden Eye award for the best documentary at the Cannes Film Festival among a host of other international wins.
Set in Delhi, the documentary follows siblings Mohammad Saud and Nadeem Shehzad, who have devoted their lives to rescuing and treating injured birds, especially black kites. It is competing alongside “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed”, “Fire of Love”, “A House Made of Splinters” and “Navalny”.
Last year, Indian feature documentary “Writing With Fire” was part of the final Oscars nominations list in the Documentary Feature section but lost out to “Summer of Soul (Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)”. It was the first Indian feature documentary to be nominated for an Academy Award.
Netflix documentary “The Elephant Whisperers” deals with the unbreakable bond between an abandoned elephant and their two caretakers. It competes for the Documentary Short Subject category with “Haulout”, “How Do You Measure a Year?”, “The Martha Mitchell Effect” and “Stranger at the Gate”.
The film, produced by Guneet Monga, marks the debut of Gonsalves, who believes Indian stories have the potential to be recognized in the world.
“India has so much to offer from every nook and corner. There are stories that are really small that have so much hope, like ‘The Elephant Whisperers. And then there are beautiful stories like ‘All that Breathes’ that is in the heart of a city. So, there’s a big range of stories from across India, which really have the potential of going out to the world and being loved by audiences across the oceans,” she told PTI.
Earlier, two entries set in India – ”Smile Pinki” and ”Period. End Of Sentence”, won Oscars for Documentary Short. Monga was the executive produce for “Period”.
The Academy has invited voting members from film communities around the globe, including a number of talented cinema artistes from India. More than 9,000 member s have cast their votes for the Oscars.
The attempts at diversity seem to be yielding results as this year’s frontrunner is Michelle Yeoh-starrer multiverse drama “Everything Everywhere All At Once”, a film that may turn out to be the big winner and a step forward in Asian representation at the mega film awards.
India has never won an Oscar in the International Film category or the Best Foreign Film as it was known earlier.
The last Indian film that made it to the final five nominees at the Oscars was Ashutosh Gowariker’s ”Lagaan”, which lost to “No Man’s Land” in 2001. ”Mother India” and ”Salaam Bombay” are the only other two Indian films to have made it to the top five besides Deepa Mehta’s ”Water”, which was a Canadian entry.
Bhanu Athaiya was the first Indian to win the Oscars after she was conferred the Academy Award for Best Costume Design in Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi”, which bagged eight trophies in 1983.
Directing legend Satyajit Ray was conferred an honorary Oscar in 1992, just a month before his death.
But what makes this year’s award ceremony unique is that unlike previous award seasons where foreign films with an India connection helped the country find brief moments of spotlight, the glory this year is completely made in India.
Filmmaker Siddharth Roy Kapur, who backed “Chhello Show” (‘Last Film Show’) India’s official entry to the Oscars this year, is hopeful the next decade will belong to India. Though the film did not make the cut in the final five, he said there were learnings aplenty on how to run an Oscars campaign.
Discussing the Oscar prospects of “Naatu Naatu”, “All That Breathes” and “The Elephant Whisperers”, he said, “I hope we win, and we bring home three Oscars this time. But even if they don’t, just the fact that they have gotten this far means like we are knocking on the doors and those doors will open at some point,” he told PTI.