‘Elated, proud’: India celebrates historic wins in 2023 Oscars

Special ‘Elated, proud’: India celebrates historic wins in 2023 Oscars
Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga, winners of the Oscar for ‘The Elephant Whisperers,’ Dolby Theatre, Hollywood, California, Mar. 12, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 14 March 2023

‘Elated, proud’: India celebrates historic wins in 2023 Oscars

‘Elated, proud’: India celebrates historic wins in 2023 Oscars
  • Oscar-winning Indian productions featured regional languages of Telugu, Tamil
  • Song ‘Naatu Naatu’ from hit film ‘RRR’ beat heavyweights such as Lady Gaga, Rihanna

NEW DELHI: India celebrated on Monday its historic double win at the Oscars after the breakout hit “Naatu Naatu” won best original song and “The Elephant Whisperers” was named best short documentary.

The catchy tune from the epic “RRR” was the first from an Indian film to earn a nomination and win in its category at the prestigious Academy Awards.

The dance anthem by composer M.M. Keeravani and lyricist Chandrabose was competing against the likes of Barbadian songstress Rihanna and US singer Lady Gaga for best original song.

It also won a Golden Globe award in January.

“The Elephant Whisperers,” from female duo director Kartiki Gonsalves and producer Guneet Monga, won best documentary short film, becoming the first Indian flick to win an Oscar in the category.

It follows the story of a couple in southern India who devote themselves to caring for an orphaned elephant, exploring the bond between humans and animals.

“Congratulations India” trended on Twitter shortly after the announcements, as Indian celebrities, political leaders, and ordinary citizens erupted with joy on social media.

“Exceptional. The popularity of ‘Naatu Naatu’ is global. It will be a song that will be remembered for years to come,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet. “India is elated and proud.”

He also congratulated the team behind “The Elephant Whisperers” for highlighting “the importance of sustainable development and living in harmony with nature.”

India is well-known for its Bollywood films, but this year’s Oscars placed a global spotlight on its regional productions. The blockbuster “RRR” is a Telugu-language movie, whereas “The Elephant Whisperers” features the southern Indian language of Tamil.

“Out of the 1,000 films we make in India every year, 800 of them are regional films – they are the spinal cord of Indian cinema,” Resul Pookutty, Indian film sound designer who won the Academy Award for best sound mixing in 2009 for “Slumdog Millionaire,” told Arab News.

Indian artist A.R. Rahman also won an Oscar in the best original song category that year for “Jai Ho” in the same movie, which was a British production.

“Fourteen years later we got an Indian film win at a competitive Oscar. It’s a mark of many more to come,” Pookutty said.

Anthony Ruban, who worked on “The Elephant Whisperers” as a sound engineer said the Oscar victory was “like a dream come true.”

“It’s a pride moment for India. It’s so surreal, so proud to be part of such a very important and lovely documentary project,” Ruban told Arab News.

“I did not realize that this was going to be this big. I knew the documentary is going to touch everyone who watches it. Now it has touched everybody, and it has touched people all over the world,” he said.

In the southern Indian city of Warangal, where Telugu is the predominant language, elated fans were also cheering the wins.

“Today is a day of pride for India and for the Telugu film industry,” Venkat Narayan, a retired economics professor, told Arab News.

“The film ‘RRR’ has every beat of Telugu in it, and it is a very emotional movie to watch,” he said.

“The film, because of its originality, has already created a wave. Now the win at the Oscars confirms that the regional film industry has greater energy and originality and can bring greater laurels for India at the international stage.”

Narendra Pulloor, a senior journalist based in Hyderabad where Telugu is also the main language, said the achievement at the Oscars showed that “India is not only Bollywood.”

“I am sure in time to come this achievement at the Oscars will inspire more people to do good work in regional language,” Pulloor told Arab News. “Now they know that language is not a barrier to achieve international fame.”