The Ridiculous, The Churlish And The Endearing: Questions Keeravani's Oscar Win Raises

K Balakumar

Mar 15, 2023, 04:19 PM | Updated 04:19 PM IST

Celebrating Keeravani's Oscar by discussing it
Celebrating Keeravani's Oscar by discussing it
  • From the downright absurd comments on social media to the nuanced questions being discussed in fandoms, here is an overview of the reactions to M M Keeravani's fabulous Oscar win.
  • The Oscar triumph of the M M Keeravani-tuned Naatu Naatu song in S S Rajamouli's larger-than-life Telugu film RRR has inevitably triggered an avalanche of opinions and 'hot takes'. 

    While many are happy that a song, which is quintessentially a creation of the Indian masala film universe, has walked away with a coveted honour, a section that is mostly salty and choleric on any given issue has, however, spewed bile in typical fashion. 

    "Naatu Naatu is not even the best song of Keeravani."

    "There are better music directors in India who are far more deserving of the award".

    "It is the victory for PR hype".

    "Naatu Naatu is not reflective of Indian cinema, it won only because it pandered to the exotic fetish of the Whites."

    "Oscars are nothing great. It is just a small group's much hyped offering." 

    This is, by and large, the gist of some of the pettish views of a cross-section on the social media platforms.

    Rather than celebrate the happy moment and take in the exhilaration of the achievement, they were indulging in negative narratives and pointless polemics. 

    But on social media platforms this is pretty much par for the course.

    It can be nobody's case that the RRR team did not indulge in PR to create a buzz around the film and the song.

    But as any communication and media consultant would tell you, no amount of hyping can help sell an essentially bad product. 

    The Naatu Naatu song, with its pulsating beats and the most infectious adrenaline-pumping choreography, held an instant attraction to even those who don't get Indian films and its music. 

    Make no mistake about it, there is a special allure to the number.

    Also, it is not as if the other competing songs did not resort to media build-up.

    The Naatu Naatu song was in fact up against some of the top names in the game today. 

    The other contenders were:  Applause from Tell It like a Woman (Diane Warren), Hold My Hand from Top Gun Maverick (Lady Gaga and BloodPop), Lift Me Up from Black Panther Wakanda Forever (Tems, Rihanna, Ryan Coogler and Ludwig Goransson), This Is a Life from Everything Everywhere All at Once (Ryan Lott, David Byrne and Mitski).

    Yes, Keeravani won against the likes of Rihanna and Lady Gaga who are no strangers to amping up the media fizz on their works.

    They belong to Hollywood which is the pioneer in the art of dazzling promotion. 

    So, to allege that all the artificial razzmatazz on Naatu Naatu brought it the big title is to spectacularly miss the wood for the trees.

    At worst, you can say Naatu Naatu won by practising all the tricks of the trade that other competitors also resorted to.  

    The other charge that this is not Keeravani's best output is laughably silly.

    We heard a similar plaint when A R Rahman won two Oscars in 2009 for the Jai Ho song in Slumdog Millionaire

    It may be a fact that a song like Jai Ho may not even make it to the top 10 of most people's Best of Rahman playlist.

    But, so what?

    That is not the point at all, no?

    Jai Ho, or for that matter Naatu Naatu, was made for the specific needs of a film, and the awards and other things are all post-facto happenings that could not have impacted its creation in the first place.  

    That the songs won the Oscar is an event of time and a few other imponderables. 

    In any case, why should only the best work of Rahman or Keeravani or any other performer get the Oscar?

    For perspective, not all the gold medals of Usain Bolt at the Olympics were won with world record timings. 

    The lament that Oscars are just awards doled out by a jury whose tastes and views are subjective is another charge that is both hollow and shallow.

    Any award or recognition to any work of art is willy-nilly a 'choice' of a selective group and can bever be a faultless exercise in objectivity.

    So, Oscars cannot be seen as the final arbiter on the quality of a film or song. 

    But, huh, do Oscars matter?

    Whether one likes it or not, there is no gainsaying the fact that it is the most popular and recognised award for films and attendant arts.

    It is indeed, to use the inevitable cliche, a coveted honour.

    Those who crib that it is just a prize from an American academy would probably see the Nobel peace prize being no more than a small token of appreciation from a miniscule panel picked up by the Norwegian parliament. 

    Oscars, if it were any less important, would so many be crying themselves hoarse by declaiming that it is not important? 

    But there is one aspect to the Oscar debate, especially in the Indian film music context, that calls for some nuance. 

    Those top music directors who have not won the Oscars, how should they feel as their CV would not boast 'Oscar Award Winner' in the achievements column? 

    To take the specific example of Ilaiyaraaja, who this writer and countless many others believe is the best musician that India has produced. Of course, it is a view. But an opinion that we would think to be considered.

    For us, if you are talking of Indian film music, the name to put first on any positive list has to be Ilaiyaraaja. 

    So, does it rankle that while Rahman and Keeravani, who started much later than Raaja have got the Oscars, the man from the small village in Theni has not? 

    Well, though we don't parse Raaja's phenomenal achievements merely through the prism of awards, the fact that Oscars have eluded him — albeit it's no fault of his — does put us on a strange backfoot in fans-based exchanges. 

    Ilaiyaraaja cannot be held responsible if the films that he works in don't get nominated to the Oscars.

    The Oscar race is a team game.

    But truth be told the lack of Oscars to show for his monumental efforts so far is a bit humbling. 

    It reiterates the sobering truism that no matter how great you are, you cannot have everything in life. 

    It is a bit like how Leonel Messi fans felt till the football World Cup in Doha.

    It is not as if the magical man from Argentina was any lesser player without the tag 'World Cup winner' in his resume.

    But after that magical night on 18 December 2022, the final stamp of approval on his footballing greatness was seen to have arrived. 

    Who knows, considering the fact that Raaja is going great guns even today, you can't put it past him to scoop an Oscar or two in the foreseeable future.

    But that is for another day.

    And this moment cannot be the occasion to discuss the predicament of Raaja fans or the fans of other greats like, say, R D Burman, M S V, Salil Chowdhary. 

    It will take away the limelight away from Keeravani.

    These awards don't reach a person at random. He had a few things going for him, but, equally, the diligent dint of his effort was always there. 

    Let us celebrate him and the award.

    Keeravani gaaru, you deserve the Oscars. You won it fair and square. And you have brought joy to the nation. To say anything else at this hour would be an exercise in churlishness. 

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