India Whispers, Then Rises And Roars At The Oscars

The 95th Oscars was a far cry from the surreal plot of impulsive viciousness that swamped last year’s award ceremony.
<div class="paragraphs"><p>A still from 'Naatu Naatu' from<em> RRR.</em></p></div>
A still from 'Naatu Naatu' from RRR.

Thankfully, the Ides of March certainly gave the Academy Awards a miss this year. It took a rueful turn past the Dolby Theatre and sought refuge in uncharted spaces.

The 95th Oscars was a far cry from the surreal plot of impulsive viciousness that swamped last year’s award ceremony that had presenter Chris Rock nursing a sore jaw after actor Will Smith dished a slam dunk slap at him, later going on to pick up the Best Actor award for the performance, as it were.

This year, that incident was teased a few times by presenter Jimmy Kimmel as the golden statue was dished out to the winners free of any unsavoury occurrences.

India shored up two notable wins: one for the Documentary Short feature, The Elephant Whisperers, and the other for Best Original Song for the song Naatu Naatu from the film RRR.

California Dreaming As The RRR Juggernaut Rolls On And On

That Naatu Naatu would annihilate the competition in the original song section was a given. The live performance of the song by singers Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava with Lauren Gottlieb and a peculiar dance entourage, tapping their feet to the number minutes before, nudged the fence sitting last vote into the winners envelope as the award presenters, Janelle Monae and Kate Hudson, announced the song as the winner.

Earlier, as Deepika Padukone introduced the song, cheers and whistles from the audience interspersed her song salutation, as she went at lengths to describe the song to the uninitiated, labelling it as a “banger”.

Naatu Naatu’s lyricist MM Keeravani’s personal anecdote and ode to the music band Carpenters in his acceptance speech had searingly impatient regional news channels in Kerala and a flurry of their studio guests lost in whatever was left of the state’s green canopy, as they literally attributed the composer’s appreciation to those who actually toil on the real woodwork.

However, as the other song nominations in the category were being played out, Applause from Tell It Like a Woman, 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, one could sense the compelling beat of the ultimate winner echoing and rafting in and out of every ear seated at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California.

The song that has resurrected lives of famous has-been celebrities and provided livelihood to commoners alike through Tik Tok and YouTube Shorts, that had engulfed social media for over a year now, has finally reached the award summit, draped in a multi-colour of satiny hue shining nice and bright on an effervescent Telugu film industry.

Post the after-party shindigs and untamed revelry, as the last of the party balloon pops, there may be a few takers for some plain questions. Would India’s winning entry have made it this far a decade or so back, were there not better compositions in the past that would have made the cut if not for the undeniable heft and impact that social media has had in billowing and blowing Naatu Naatu across the seven seas as it freewheeled into the rapid eye movement of unsuspecting netizens in their apostate borderless state of mind?  

Shining The Light On Elephant Conservation From Mudumalai To Los Angeles

No doubt about the other winner though, from an all-woman duo behind a touching and timely take of an existential bond between humans and animals. The elephant god did finally bless the team of The Elephant Whisperers, as the documentary short feature shot by debutant director Kartiki Gonsalves and produced by Guneet Monga beat strong contenders in the form of How Do You Measure a Year?, Haulout, Stranger at the Gate and The Martha Mitchell Effect to bring home the coveted trophy.

The documentary, currently streaming on Netflix, is an endearing encounter of an elderly couple—Bomman and Bellie—who are Kattunayakars, a forest tribe in the Western Ghats bordering the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, who go on to care for two orphaned baby elephants—Raghu and Ammu—in the state’s Mudumalai Tiger Reserve situated near the Nilgiri Hills.

The documentary shot over a period of five years and with 450 hours of footage holds forth the indomitable spirit of ordinary people living their lives as caregivers for abandoned elephant calves. The couple become unsung heroes leading the way and showing the world the importance of elephant conservation.

This was Monga’s second Oscar win—the first one was in 2019, in the Documentary Short subject section with Period. End of Sentence. Gonsalves, in her acceptance speech, critically acknowledged what we have lost sight of the world over, the inexplicable manner in which we have disrupted our relationship with the natural world.

In a few rousing lines, she spoke how the world needs to respect indigenous communities and the increasingly diminishing shared spaces where other living beings also exist. A wildlife  and social documentary photographer, Gonsalves is already at work on her next project on Orca-human relationships.  

A mention for All That Breathes—a phenomenal documentary directed by Shaunak Sen that did not win in the Documentary Feature section, losing out to Navalny.

Set in New Delhi, it is a sober gaze of two Muslim brothers who look after the Black Kite amid violence and religious strife, holding a mirror to how bigotry and hatred have trumped humaneness in our lives. It is a season for celebration, dipping into raucous displays of bravado for the Indian film industry on the world stage but that final revolt may well take some time.

Anand Mathew is a social development consultant based in New Delhi. 

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.

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