M. M. Keeravaani on “Naatu Naatu,” an Indian Song, Transcending Language Barriers
RRR is a modern-day mythological drama. It’s a tale of two friends whose lives take different paths and they become enemies. It’s a tale of love, hate and nationalism. The song from the film, “Naatu Naatu,” is winning recognition this awards season – it won a Golden Globe and is nominated for an Oscar.
We reached out to M. M. Keeravaani, the music composer of the film via email, to get his reactions to the buzz that the song and the film are receiving.
You made history when “Naatu Naatu” won Best Song at this year’s Golden Globe Awards making it the first Indian song to ever win this award in its 80 years of existence. What was the experience like for you when the award was announced.?
Firstly, it feels great to know that “Naatu Naatu,” an Indian song, could transcend language barriers. I would like to thank the universe for making this happen and all the people who continue to celebrate “Naatu Naatu.” It’s a great honor to win the Golden Globes. It simply feels great to me. However, this award belongs to my brother S.S. Rajamouli and his vision. I thank him for his constant support and trust in my work.
In the scene which features the dance sequence, the heroes could have easily resorted to violence but instead, choose to dance. How did you decide on the rhythm and tone of the dance sequence?
The decision of choosing a dance sequence over a fight sequence was my brother’s idea. Bheem is being humiliated but he’s an innocent guy and a great dancer. He’s in a completely unfamiliar world. So, when Ram comes and helps him, Rajamouli wanted the audience to feel their anger. They can’t fight because of the situation that they’re in but placing this song in that particular situation satisfied the audience’s thirst for a fight sequence. When it comes to choosing the tone and rhythm of the dance sequence, Rajamouli explained that the song should have a competitive beat in it. I composed about 10, 15, 20 various tunes for this song.
The movie is three hours long with various themes. How did you decide upon the tone of each sequence and also the music that suits the characters?
I usually try to figure out the soul of the film and then compose a tune for that soul and weave it back and forth. With RRR, I tried to compose music for friendship, and what it sounds like to love someone unconditionally. There is an element of misunderstanding someone for how they look or for their actions, without knowing their intentions. That’s the common thing I had for Ram Charan and NTR. So I tried to compose music that reflected the misunderstanding.
You and the director are cousins and you’ve worked on all of his films. How does that relationship work as I believe you both live under the same roof?
Working with Rajamouli is like writing notes without a pen and paper. Me and Mr. Rajamouli both share a great bond in terms of understanding each other’s needs without expressing much. We share great synergy. More than the music, I spend hours with Rajamouli discussing what emotions the characters are feeling, i.e. if they’re feeling sad, happy, etc. The best thing about working with Rajamouli is that other directors order you to do what they want, but Rajamouli is very clear in terms of what he doesn’t want, which gives me freedom to work on a lot of other genres.
When you wrote the song, did you ever think it would go viral? In your opinion, what made this song so embraced all over the world?
The beat is 6/8 and that’s not prominent in the west but more prominent in India and sometimes in Africa. To be precise, it’s even a South Indian kind of beat, not so much North Indian. “Naatu Naatu” is a whole other ball game in terms of BPM (beats per minute) as it is very rarely heard in the West. So that’s what primarily got the attention of the Western audience. I picked Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava as they’d do justice to this melody. They gave their best and that’s why the song is what it is now. Also, the main reason for the virality of the song is the dance between the two superstars. They were tremendous in terms of synchronization. The situation in which Rajamouli has placed the song has elevated it to a whole new level.
At a Cinematheque screening in Los Angeles, where I believe you were present, the audience was dancing, clapping, and singing. How did you react to that?
That atmosphere is prominent across South India. Never ever in my wildest dreams had I thought that the western audience would dance on stage to my song. I was amazed looking at them that day. Feels great to receive so much love and admiration from them.
Overall, what was your experience in Hollywood?
Hollywood was amazing and the people were very kind. I am very happy to receive love from the audiences there.
Congratulations on the Best Song Oscar nomination! What was your reaction when you heard it, and will the song be performed live during the show?
Thank you so much. It feels great to know that “Naatu Naatu” is the first ever Indian song to get nominated at the Oscars. And why not? I’m sure both actors have already begun their 12 hours of dance practice!