It was the biggest moment for Indian cinema at the Global stage when The Elephant Whisperers won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short and RRR’s song ‘Naatu Naatu’ won for the Best Original Song. Both of them are Indian productions and both The Elephant Whisperers and RRR (Rise, Roar, Revolt) narrates the stories signifying the Indian culture.
The Elephant Whisperers, directed by Kartiki Gonsalves is a pleasing documentary about a couple from indigenous tribe in south India, named Bomman and Bellie who wholeheartedly look after the orphaned baby elephants named Raghu and Ammu and started living together like an ordinary family. Whereas, RRR directed by SS Rajamouli is a grand story telling about two revolutionary friends who fought with the Britishers in 1920s depicting actions, adventure, music and dance.
Musician MM Keeravani and Lyricist Chandrabose received the much desired golden statuettes for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards. There is immense popularity of the song and it has 124 million views on YouTube. And still counting. There were tireless campaigns by the RRR team which was headed by Rajamouli which acquired a special significance as it was an ongoing effort for the global recognition even after being snubbed during India’s official selection made by the Film Federation of India (FFI) for the country’s official entry for the Academy Award in the Best Foreign Film category. For a temporary period it was feared that the song might not go for the nomination. In the past, few movies such as The Lunchbox (2013) and The Disciple (2020), could not sustain their Oscar campaign even after receiving impressive international acclaim were not picked as India’s official entry. The RRR team submitted the film for Oscars nomination in 14 categories emboldened by the love and appreciation the Telugu-language RRR had received since its release abroad.
RRR continued to make its presence felt in the award season with multiple wins, the most prominent being the Golden Globe Award for Best Song, five Hollywood Critics Association Awards and two Critics’ Choice Movie Awards. This kind of success for a mainstream Indian movie during the award season could change the way Indian filmmakers pursue international glory and recognition.
Rahman who won the Oscar in 2009 for Best Score in Slumdog Millionaire) in a social media post recalled feeling like a “gladiator” for his pre-oscar experience. He said that the Rajamouli team would have experienced the same. The extraordinary Oscar win has acquainted the foreign audiences with the other works of Rajamouli and which were further re-released by the film-lovers. The Indian filmmakers should find a way to capitalise this momentum and let the foreign audience discover other popular Indian movies.
The credit of this momentum should not only go to RRR alone but also, The Shaunak Sen-directed All That Breathe for the Best Documentary Feature Film category of the 95th Academy Awards while The Elephant Whisperers, produced by Guneet Monga and Achin Jain, for the award in the Best Documentary Short Film category. All that Breathes is about two brothers who have dedicated their lives to protecting the Black Kite in Delhi battling pollution as well as a changing social fabric..
It was the first time India has represented three productions at the Academy awards and an Indian celebrity presenter, actor Deepika Padukone in the same year. The award acts as a spotlight on India’s talent and unique storytelling tradition. Indian creators should capitalise on the attention received. The OTT platform has removed the geographical barriers which have made the content available from one part of the world to other. These Oscars provide a platform to powerful stories of Indian documentaries. This was the second year in a row, an Indian documentary was shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Film. Last year, Writing with Fire, directed by Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, too was nominated in the same category.
Indian talents might find a way towards the Oscars but the road ahead might prove to be challenging. The Indian stories and the narration should be such that it should be able to attract the set standards.
We can expect some exciting collaborations as Hollywood biggies including James Cameron and Steven Spielberg have expressed an interest in Rajamouli’s work.