Long before Naatu Naatu, India made the world dance to Slumdog Millionaire’s Jai Ho...

Long before Naatu Naatu, India made the world dance to Slumdog Millionaire’s Jai Ho...
  • In 2009, Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire bagged an Oscar and won over the foreign media.
  • Directed by Danny Boyle but set in India and starring Indian and Indian-American actors — Slumdog Millionaire won eight of its ten Oscar nominations.
  • It also won lyricist Gulzar, composer A R Rahman and sound designer Resul Pookutty their first Oscars.
India scripted history at the Oscars today with its two winners from the country–Naatu Naatu for Best Song and The Elephant Whisperers for Best Short Documentary. They are the first Indian productions to bag the award.

As per the Academy’s tradition for Best Song nominees, singers Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava sang the song live on-stage, accompanied by a troupe of 20 dancers — receiving a standing ovation from the crowd. Actor Deepika Padukone who presented the song at the ceremony, said “it’s a total banger”.

Naatu Naatu, the foot-thumping track from the period drama RRR, has been creating waves globally for a while now. Composed by M M Keeravani, the song also won a Golden Globe — again, the first for an Indian production.

But long before the world went Naatu Naatu, it screamed Jai Ho – yet another foot-tapping number from Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire (2008).

Slumdog Millionaire: when a foreign director captured India


Directed by Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire was a favourite of that awards season when it released — winning eight of its ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Adapted from Vikas Swaroop’s novel Q&A, the film marked a pivotal moment for Indian storytelling — a drama set in the country, helmed by a foreign director.

Not like India had not been the subject of foreign filmmakers — but mostly, these were indie films or documentaries. Rarely had a drama featuring a majority of Indian or Indian-American actors and the typical song-and-dance sequences Bollywood was known for, made it to any Oscar category other than International Feature. And yet, here was Slumdog Millionaire that competed and won.

But the film didn’t escape criticism. Fans and film critics, alike, analysed the role that Boyle played in managing Indian storytelling with foreign sensibilities. The film also received brickbats from activists, slum dwellers, and the general Indian population, for partaking in “poverty porn” i.e. dramatising India’s poverty and exaggerating its squalor for the story.

“If SM (Slumdog Millionaire) projects India as a Third World dirty underbelly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky underbelly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations. It's just that the SM idea authored by an Indian and conceived and cinematically put together by a Westerner gets creative globe recognition. The other would perhaps not,” wrote veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan in a now–deleted blog post. Later, he apologised to Boyle because, as per, Bachchan, his remarks were misconstrued by the media.

Criticism aside, what no one can deny is that Slumdog Millionaire’s success also translated into an Oscar win for three talented Indian artists, music composer A R Rahman, sound designer Resul Pookutty, and lyricist Gulzar.


Jai Ho and Naatu Naatu: international hits but domestic misses

Rahman and Gulzar have had illustrious careers, delivering musical wonders that continue to impress generations — from jazz lovers to rappers. When the two came together to compose and write the song Jai Ho, it naturally carried high expectations. Perhaps it was the weight of these expectations that let it down domestically but the song became a global sensation, even winning Rahman his first Golden Globe.

The foreign media and audience, who presumably had little familiarity with their work, hailed Jai Ho for its mellifluous tune and catchy beats. For many Indians though, who grew up listening to the duo deliver hits like the soundtrack of Saathiya or Guru, Jai Ho was mediocre, at best.

Such criticism has also been meted out to Naatu Naatu, with people sharing Keeravani’s past discography as examples of his “better work”. RRR, set during the era of the British Raj in India, has also been criticized for its underlying casteism and Hindutva ideology. The Elephant Whisperers, on the other hand, has only been hailed since its release.

Personal opinions aside, these wins are historical moments — to put India and Indian artists on the map and make it count is always worth celebrating!

RRR’s ‘Naatu Naatu’ dances away to an Oscar! Here’s a look at the other winners
Oscar-winning documentary short The Elephant Whisperers - Two women created this magic