Some South Asian creatives disappointed Oscars’ performance of India’s “Naatu Naatu” did not appear to include Indian dancers

The team behind the Indian film “RRR” to the global sensation “Nato Nato” created history. Academy Awards Sunday taking home the Oscar for Best Original Song. It was the first song from an Indian film to win an Oscar.

The song was performed on stage at the event – the first Indian song to get the opportunity since “Jai Ho” and “Oh Saya” from 2009 Best Picture winner “Slumdog Millionaire”.

Although the performance of “Natu Natu” was a major moment of representation for the South Asian community, and particularly the South Indian and Telugu communities, there was one major problem: none of the 20 dancers on stage appeared to be of South Asian descent. .

Dancers perform 'Natu Natu'. "RRR" on stage during the 95th Annual Academy Awards
Dancers perform ‘Nato Nato’ from “RRR” during the 95th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theater on March 12, 2023 in Hollywood, California.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

South Asian creators took to social media to criticize the performance, criticizing the Academy for having non-Indian duo Tabitha and Napoleon Devomo, or Nappy Tabs, direct and cast the performance, as well as supervise the costume and set design. .

The two leads of “RRR” – Telugu actor NT Rama Rao Jr, who also goes by Jr NTR, and Rama Charan – refused to participate in the performance due to other commitments and limited time for rehearsals. Diya, said Oscar producer Raj Kapoor in an interview published on Academy website Tuesday. In an interview with Juggernaut Ahead of the Oscars, Jr. NTR said the team didn’t want to distract the singers from the limelight they were getting.

I The song As seen in the film, Jr. NTR and Charan’s characters dance in front of Caucasian British colonists who say that both are not sophisticated enough to dance. The characters put on a spectacular show featuring dances indigenous to their culture, impressing the women and angering the men who can’t keep up with their skills.

Both the song and the film emphasize strong anti-colonial themes.

Naatu Naatu Full Video Song (Telugu) [4K] | RRR | NTR, Ram Charan | MM Keravani | SS Rajamouli by the
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In the Oscar presentation, the two lead roles were played by American Jason Glover and Canadian Billy Mustafa, who, despite not being South Indian, were made to resemble the film’s two main characters.

While the choreography and production teams made the ensemble more diverse by casting people of color in some of the “white” colonial roles, they failed to expand the representation of South Asians in the ensemble and lead roles, Shivani Reddy, a Telugu- American film and TV critic and TikTok content creator.

“I liked that they took a more diverse route, because the film itself became this global phenomenon,” Reddy told CBS News. “It just felt so out of place that a race that they didn’t include was one that was supposed to be represented because of the movie and where it’s from.

Reddy, who is part of the South Asian dance scene in Los Angeles, said South Asians are underrepresented in the performing arts, and this performance would have been a great opportunity to represent them on Hollywood’s biggest stage.

“It’s unfortunate because there are a lot of South Asian dancers I know who are trying to get into places in the industry where they don’t get opportunities,” she said. “And for once that we might have gained access, we were denied.”

Joya QaziA professional dancer, choreographer, consultant and producer in Los Angeles, who is a member of both the Screen Actors Guild and the Television Academy, said her agent is considering her as a dancer or production team member for the Oscars. Presented for Naatu Naatu” performance. Her agent later told her that Nappy Tabs had decided not to audition and not consider dancers they had not worked with before.

Qazi told CBS News that this was not an unusual practice, and assumed that the two had decided to accompany other South Asian artists for the performance. However, when she saw a now-deleted social media post by one of her friends and one of the “Natu Naatu” Oscar dancers, Lauren Gottlieb, who has previously appeared in Bollywood productions, she was shocked to see I was surprised that none of the South Asians showed up. Crew.

Many of the dancers who ended up performing were students of “So You Think You Can Dance” – the show where Nappy Tabs gained popularity by supervising the choreographers.

“I felt weird about it, because I just had a feeling that we might not see a South Asian on stage,” Qazi said.

After watching the performance, the artist, who has worked on Hollywood sets like “Never Have I Ever,” felt it was a bittersweet moment. He said that he was happy to see his friends perform on a big stage, but that it was unfair for Nappy Tabs to leave out South Asian talent, especially in a song that is directly South. comes from Indian cinema and whose lyrics are “about the virtues of villagers. ‘Dance.’

“It was really disappointing,” Kazi said. “I feel like Nappy Tabs really just needs to take a moment and acknowledge the fact that a mistake was made, and [that] They should have included someone from the culture.”

Hina Patel, a cultural strategist, consultant and producer in the South Asian performing arts community, told CBS News that Asian representation was at the forefront of the Oscars this year. Big win Like for movies “Everything everywhere at the same time” and “Elephant’s Whispers.” But, Patel said, the misrepresentation of the Indian community in the “Natu Natu” dance casting was hard to ignore.

“It’s very unfortunate that this piece has now spoiled what would have been a truly flawless evening of diversity and equality,” Patel said. “If you don’t get people right away, it’s on you to try harder, if that’s a priority. [NappyTabs] Chose the easy way.”

Another disappointing aspect of the performance was how little screen time the actual singers of the song got while performing at the Academy Awards, Reddy said.

“Of course, dance is a big reason for that. [“Naatu Naatu”] became a trend,” he said. “But like Lady Gagaand like Rihanna, the camera should have been on these singers, because it should have been the focal point of the performance.”

He added that the original choreographer, Prem Rakshit, did not get the recognition he deserved at the award show for creating the viral steps, while involved in the Oscar production, according to the academy.

In an interview with Kapoor published on the Oscars website, he explained the process of creating the “Nato Nato” dance for the Oscars stage, and said that the team tried to involve Rakshit and the “RRR” team in India. in order to capture its energy. The dance

But Qazi said that explanation is not enough.

“I think it was an attempt to justify how this whole production came together,” he said. “And they completely failed to recognize the fact that they left out the people of India, trying to make it feel like a global performance.”

“In a way, it’s very quiet public gaslighting, where they feel like there was no problem,” he added.

Divya Jethwani, a music manager, music label co-founder, dancer and choreographer who has worked with Indian-Canadian artist Tasher, most notably on her hit “Jalebi Baby,” told CBS News that the recognition Necessarily, the way Indians in India understood this performance may be different from the way Indians in America understood it.

Jethwani said, “People in India don’t think there is anything wrong with it. The reason behind it is that they are very happy to see the song performed on the Oscars stage. For them, it is representation.” “But for people here who literally haven’t seen themselves represented on the big screen … it seems like it’s a big deal because we don’t get those opportunities. We get to see our culture on these big screens. No chance to celebrate.”

Apart from the casting issue, more context should have been provided about the culture from which the film originated, Reddy said.

He said that only improvements could be made to better represent the culture and the industry. “There was largely no information about the Telugu film industry or Tollywood.”

Indeed, Kazi, Patel, Jethwani and Reddy all pointed out how Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel referred to “RRR” as a Bollywood production, a typically Hindi-language film, rather than That Tollywood production, Telugu language film.

Jethwani said that in future, when dealing with a specific culture, it will be up to the industry to choose the right people to make decisions like casting.

“You put in someone who has cultural competence and understands the nuances of the culture,” Jethwani said. “You need to start from the top. Creators cannot be helped if there is no one to help them in that position.”

Despite the flaws, there were some bright spots in the performance, Patel said.

“It’s great to introduce the song to not just an Indian person but a South Indian person with Deepika Padukone,” he said. “Choreographers, Napoleon and Tabitha, including Prem Rakshit, who was the original choreographer of the film, in this segment… great job, spot on.”

The Telugu-language song was penned by Chandrabose and sung by Rahul Sapliganj and Kala Bhairava, and the music was composed by MM Kirwani. Junior NTR and Ram Charan, both of whom work primarily in Telugu cinema, starred in “RRR” and performed viral dance moves in the film.

The “Kuthu”-style song, with its infectious dance and rhythm and major anti-colonial themes, beat out stiff competition at the awards show, including Rihanna’s “Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Hold My Hand” by Lady Gaga from “Top Gun: Maverick”.

CBS News reached out to Nappy Tabs for comment but did not immediately receive a response. We also reached out to the academy, which referred us to the academy. Interview with Kapoor mentioned above.

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