“Naatu Naatu” Dances into the Oscars

March 12, 2023

Dance will be energetically represented at the 2023 Academy Awards ceremony in a tribute to “Naatu Naatu,” the international viral hit nominated for best original song from the Telugu-language film RRR. Featuring spectacularly synced onscreen dancing by stars Ram Charan and N. T. Rama Rao Jr. (Jr NTR), “Naatu Naatu” is the first Indian film song to be nominated for an Oscar.

RRR (short for Rise Roar Revolt) tells the story of a friendship between revolutionaries in pre-independence India, and “Naatu Naatu” is essentially a dance-off between the two of them—and the colonial establishment. The high-energy choreography for the scene, filmed at the Presidential Palace in Kiev, Ukraine, was created by Prem Rakshith. “The steps as such were not hard, but what was harder is the sync,” Jr NTR told Entertainment Tonight. “Each person has a different style of dancing, but for [director S. S. Rajamouli] it was so important that in the film, when two friends are aligned together, you really don’t need to look at each other, you know that you are one.”

Rajamouli asked Rakshith to create steps that were both straightforward and catchy: “[The choreography] should be not complicated, because I also wanted to figure out steps which people would like to do for themselves,” he told Vanity Fair, adding that he told Rakshith that “it should be nice, it shouldn’t be too difficult, it should suit the style of both actors—and it should be fantastic.”

The film’s stars will not perform at the awards ceremony as they’ve been working on other projects and haven’t had time to rehearse.  “I think it will be nice for me to sit down in the audience and watch the song,” Jr NTR told KTLA, “because the moment I watched that clip, my legs started aching all over again.”

Instead the Academy Awards tribute will feature Los Angeles-based dancers, including Lauren Gottlieb, a So You Think You Can Dance and Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa alum who has worked in the Indian film industry, and starred in the 2013 ABCD: Any Body Can Dance.

“Naatu Naatu” won the Golden Globe and the Critics Choice awards for best song. Performed by Kaala Bhairava and Rahul Sipligunj, “Naatu Naatu” is up against “Applause” (Tell It Like A Woman, performed by Sofia Carson), “Hold My Hand” (Top Gun: Maverick, performed by Lady Gaga), “Lift Me Up” (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, performed by Rihanna) and “This Is A life” (Everything Everywhere All At Once, performed by Ryan Lott, David Byrne and Mitski).