After Gangnam, desi Naatu Naatu became global sensation; what explains it?

After Gangnam, desi Naatu Naatu became global sensation; what explains it?

The catchy hookline, 'Naatu Naatu', which means raw and rustic, is combined with an infectious beat

In 2012, a little over a decade, a wacky horse-riding dance in a Korean pop song became a worldwide phenomenon and people rushed to perfect the knee-buckling, Spanish bull-fighter moves. The Gangnam dance style went on to spawn thousands of imitations, spoofs and spinoffs and became all the rage in Indian discos and parties. At the height of its popularity, the Korean singer Psy was one day sharing the stage with Madonna; leading a flash mob in front of the Eiffel Tower the next and even got to perform before then US president Barack Obama.

Today, the fiery, spirited energy behind the Oscar nominated film song, ‘Naatu Naatu’ from SS Rajamouli’s historical fantasy, ‘RRR’, seems to stir up that same kind of craze and infectious joie de vivre in people around the world. If celebrities in the US are not singing praises about ‘RRR’ and ‘Naatu Naatu’, with Americans assiduously learning the hook step, the Koreans are also not far behind.

Watch: RRR’s Naatu Naatu choreography inspired by Tom & Jerry: Prem Rakshit

When the Korean embassy staff in India posted a video of their sprightly rendition of the rustic ‘Naatu Naatu’ also done with a certain savoir faire and fronted by their ambassador Chang Jae-bok, it was described as ‘groovy’ and dazzled even PM Narendra Modi. Indians were delighted and the video went viral.

On YouTube, there are dozens of clips of people tossing confetti in the air and dancing in front of the film screen in theatres during this song. On YouTube, the 4.35 minute ‘Naatu Naatu’ song in its multiple versions – Hindi, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam – has notched up more than 43 crore views. The Hindi version alone has picked up 26 crore viewers. There’s also a YouTube tutorial on how to do the ‘Naatu Naatu’ step.

The head honchos in the Indian corporate world too are not shy to make noise about this famous hook step. In June 2022, Paul Hermelin, chairman of Capgemini board, appreciated the dance number on his LinkedIn page and asked his friends to match the hook steps in the dance. Quite recently, industrialist Anand Mahindra too posted a video on Twitter showing how he was trying to learn the hook step from no other than actor Ram Charan in Hyderabad.

American schoolchildren have put up scores of Tik Tok reels doing the hook step. At a Los Angeles screening in January this year, many people jumped and danced like mad in the aisles as the song played in the movie. Telugu actor Ram Charan, who is one of the lead pair in the song, and had attended the screening, must have thought he is back inside an Indian theatre among the rowdy front benchers.

The hook step which became famous worldwide

This exuberant number has indeed won fans across the world, and picked up prestigious awards like the Golden Globe. It has also been nominated for Best Original song at the Oscars and is tipped to walk away with the prize tomorrow. Most of the ‘RRR’ team members linked to the song, including choreographer Prem Rakshith are currently in the US, “nervous but excited”.

In interviews, Rakshith has said that he had tried zillions of steps before zeroing in on a jiglike routine, like Tom and Jerry, known as a hook step with lots of switchback arm and leg movements. “I wanted everybody to grasp the hook step and enjoy doing it,” Rakshith said.

This song featuring Telugu superstars Ram Charan and Jr NTR, who play freedom fighters from the 1920s, Bheem and Raju, is a visual treat as both actors perfectly mirror each other’s step. There’s also a routine with suspenders which both the heroes execute with precision. This highly synchronised dance-off has a peppy, infectious beat that impels people to get on their feet and kick off their shoes and do the Naatu.

So, what is the Naatu?

So, what is Naatu? asks the actor who plays the British bully in ‘RRR’. And, that is the magic word that triggers the two actors to spring into the ‘Naatu Naatu’ number, which slowly morphs into a marathon dance-off, as lot of people jump in to dance to this vigorous number set to an Indian folk beat. There’s more drama inherent in this dance number, as it is played out against the pink-and-blue Mariinsky Palace, in Kyiv, Ukraine, before the Russian invasion. The team shot the song over 15 days, working 12 hours a day with 150 dancers and a crew of 200 people.

It was a lot of hard work, as Rakshith has often said that every time he okayed a take, Rajamouli would ask for “one more” shot.

In India, mostly, people are puzzled by the international success of this number, since there have been many other finer and more fiery dance numbers than ‘Naatu Naatu’ in Indian films. But, ‘Naatu Naatu’, “with its very regular tune and lyrics”, as one magazine put it, has somehow got global recognition and become a representative of India’s famed celluloid musicals.

Why Naatu Naatu became popular?

What is it about this “desi naach” that has made it so popular? Firstly, it’s catchy hookline, ‘Naatu Naatu’, which actually mean raw and rustic, combined with an infectious beat has worked for the song, say experts. But, there’s also the big putdown of colonials in the song, who come across as silly and facetious, while the brown Indians ultimately triumph in this dance-off with their brawn, energy and grace. The underdog winning here may also be a strong pull and resonates with audiences, feel critics.

Westerners also find the lyrics exotic and rooted in Indian culture – ‘Dance like a bull in the dust/Dance like the lead dancer at the village festival’ and ‘Dance like you’ve eaten jowar roti with a chilli’. Moreover, Rajamouli has described ‘Naatu Naatu’ in ‘Vanity Fair’ as structurally the ‘RRR’ movie in miniature, the entire dance sequence, as a “story within the story”. It is also his way of tipping a hat at friendship and solidarity, as the two heroes dance like “two individuals with the same soul”. All of which, combined with good marketing skills by the ‘RRR’ team has propelled ‘Naatu Naatu’ on the world stage, with everyone asking, ‘come do the Naatu Naatu with me?’

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