BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Photos by Vakiti Creations
“Kashthani Ishtapadu (Start loving hard work)
Isthtanga Kasthapadu (Work hard for what you love)
Vijayam ni ventapaduthundi!” (Then victory will come chasing you! )
Atlanta, GA, March 19, 2023: Oscar Award Winner Kunakuntla Subash Chandrabose cited words of wisdom he personally penned, in reply to NRI Pulse’s question about what success means to him, at the press meet at Astro Celebrations in Cumming on March 14, 2023. Only two days following his historic win, the Academy Award winner was felicitated with much grandeur and gargantuan fanfare at a sold-out event, themed “Celebrating Natu Natu in Atlanta,” at Forsyth Conference Center at Lanier Tech in Cumming. Both events were organized by Atlanta entrepreneurs Chand Akkineni and Goutam Goli. Consul General of Atlanta, India, Dr. Swati Kulkarni presided as the guest of honor. Neelima MAJJI & RK Korada, Chandrabose’s Event Promoters joined the event. Invited guests included Mayor of Johns Creek John Bradberry, Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman, Johns Creek city council members Bob Erramilli and Dilip Tunki amongst other leaders of various Indian community organizations.
In 2016, Chandrabose was in LA along with Keeravani. As it turned out, they both visited Beverly hills and took pictures in front of the Academy Awards theater and thought that was enough for his lifetime. Little did they know that only seven years later, they both would receive a formal invite to walk the red carpet from the very same Academy ! “It is a feeling that is indescribable!” said the Oscar winning lyricist.
“This Oscar is a truth like a lie, as real as a dream, imagination in reality. I felt the weight and happiness of holding India’s cultural heritage, dignity, and achievements,” Chandrabose said. Highlighting the significance of the win, he said, “A song has naadam (tunes/music) and bhaavam (expression). It was easy for Telugu speaking people to understand and appreciate the simplicity of India’s rural village cultural references in the song. Others may not understand the bhaavam but are tuned to the naadam of the song. What makes this great is that those rustic (village) norms, purity, simplicity and living traditions made it all the way to the global stage and got so much recognition.”“I appreciate my wife for all the support and prayers performed for my success and the awards. She was convinced of my success and the day before the golden globe awards, she assured me with conviction that I will win the award. The following morning, she banged on my door to wake me and inform me of the award. She had also convinced him that I will win the Oscar,” Bose said.
Much deserving of all the vociferous cheerleading in Atlanta and across the globe, Telugu-language Natu Natu, from the blockbuster movie RRR, scripted history on March 12, 2023, as the first Indian film song to take home the coveted Oscar in the Best Original Song category at the 95th Academy Awards, beating heavyweights including Lady Gaga and Rihanna! The thumping number that has the world grooving to its beats had already made history in January when it won a Golden Globe for the best original song – another first for India. The same month, it also won the Critics’ Choice award for the best song. Natu Natu also scooped up Online Film Critics Society, Houston Film Critics Society, Hollywood Critics Association Awards.
The peppy track tuned into a global sensation soon after the film’s release in the US last year. Shot in 2021 in front of the Mariinskyi Palace, the official residence of Ukraine’s president, a site now in the middle of a war zone, the song features the film’s lead actors – Ram Charan and Jr NTR – performing electrifying dance moves. The lively choreography has inspired several Instagram reels and dance trends on social media.
“I never dreamt this win (Oscar) in my wildest dreams. My ambition in life was to get one national (in India) award,” Chandrabose said. Humble to a fault and deeply profound in his thoughts, the writer noted that every song was “special” to him, and he treated each song as his own “child”. From a larger perspective, the Academy recognition was a proud moment for India and Telugu language people across the world, he remarked.
“Naatu means raw, rustic, primitive” Chandrabose translated. The lyricist revealed that he had ‘written 90 per cent’ of the song in 45 minutes and the rest took him 19 months. Having grown up in a small village called Challagerige in Jayashankar Bhupalapalli district of Telangana, he drew inspiration for the lyrics from his childhood memories. Soon after his victory was announced, folks from his village celebrated with firecrackers and distribution of sweets.
Each Oscar has a unique number. His award number 4409, he said when added according to numerology, is equal to 8, the same number as the words in each line of his song. “I got 4 major awards for this song while I always wished for just one award for any of his songs.”
The musical nucleus of RRR, Naatu Naatu, is south Indian style of folk dance performed with percussion, known as Kuthu. It is just one example of what is called “dappankuthu” (literally “drum punch”) in Tamil or “teenmaar” ( “three sounds”) in Telugu, a percussive, raunchy, and aggressive form of pop music. The song is a brilliant amalgamation of skillsets of director S.S. Rajamouli, composer M.M. Keeravani, lyricist Chandrabose, choreographer Prem Rakshith starring N.T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan who create an ode to South Indian dance, with freedom fighters Bheem (NTR Jr.) and Rama (Charan) facing off in competition against British men and women. Backed by infectious tunes, breaking into energetic dance sequences, the heroes defeat their rivals with moves rooted in Indian folk dance.
The movie ‘RRR’, set in 1920, narrates a fictionalized story of two real-life Indian revolutionaries, Alluri and Komaram Bheem (Jr NTR) and Sitharama Raju (Ram Charan). Even though the two never actually met, the film is centered around their friendship and how they overcome the odds during the freedom struggle.
“Honesty in every song,” Chandrabose said, was his philosophy towards his work. “I put all my effort towards every song – be a love song, situational song, partition song, or even an item song. So that gave me this result.” Each of the 3600 songs Chandrabose has penned for over 850 films, he said, were a “tapassu” (penance) for him. And after 3600 times of penance, God gave me this (Oscar),” Chandrabose told NRI Pulse.
“Mr. Bose is an extremely down to earth personality. His passion for literature and music at a young age kept him motivated to pursue his dream simultaneously with academics (Engineering Graduate). What he did with his Oscar win is, he inspired the new generation of Indian diaspora to pursue art which otherwise always kept them interested only in academics,” MAJJI told NRI Pulse.
“We are honored to host this historic press meet at Astro Celebrations. We are thankful for all the support from donors, supporters and organizations,” organizer Goli said.
“United Atlanta Indian Community comprising of IACA, IFA and multiple Telugu organization were privileged to host the first felicitation of Sri Chandra Bose after receiving the Oscar. Oscars for Natu Natu and The Elephant Whisperers are proud moments for Indians worldwide,” organizer Akkineni noted.
The felicitation event witnessed an unprecedented demand forcing the organizers to move the venue from Astro Celebrations to Lanier tech just the previous day before the event. Even then, the free event was sold out in less than 40 minutes of the announcement. Individual and organization sponsors poured in to support and celebrate the international phenomenon that has taken the world by a storm.
Kicking off with a traditional lamp lighting, sponsoring individuals and organizations honored the award-winning lyricist with traditional shawl and flower bouquets and presented a plaque to commemorate the iconic victory and its celebration in Atlanta. Anchor Lavanya Srinath Guduru kept up the energetic vibe alive with her pleasant smile and charismatic personality.
“I appreciate the performances and thank all the organizers. I’m very pleased to see several organizations in Atlanta coordinate and come together to celebrate his achievement. Music is the only medium that has the strength to unite different organizations and different cultures, even more happier today as it was his music that brought everyone together,” Bose said.
THE MAKING OF NATU NATU
During his speech at the felicitation, Chandrabose elaborated on the origins of the making. Director Rajamouli’s context to the song, Chandrabose said was, “there are two boys, one from Telangana and another from Andhra, who come for some work and sing a song, but will be humiliated. In response, they will perform and demonstrate their skills in dance and music.”
“Rajamouli gaaru did not tell me what to write but told me what not to write,” Chandraboase said. Rajamouli had said that the song should not be offensive or abusive or put down or irk or humiliate or insult or use foul language or criticize the other side. “This shows his character and highlights his samskara(cultural heritage). Even if someone humiliates you, we should not respond in a similar fashion but have to win them over with our abilities and shut it down.”
As he was driving home, Chandrabose said, he thought about the scene as described by Rajamouli, and the words naatu naatu naatu, veera naatu and a few more just came to him instantaneously. He immediately stopped the car, wrote those down and was convinced that those were good words to include in the song. The flow of thoughts was so strong that in 45 minutes he wrote 90% of the entire song!
“The song is all about a village lifestyle, pictures of their daily routines of farming, cooking, nature of food, etc.” he said.
He showed and played the song to Rajamouli in 2020 Jan but with the pandemic and various other hurdles it took over 19 months to iterate and finalize. Months later, while the song was being shot, Rajamouli called him and suggested to change a couple lines at the end as he felt some words may offend the other side. Though he was already onto a different project and preoccupied, he stepped away for 15 minutes and rewrote those lines and sent. He never lost hope or was upset. “My only aim was to make sure that Rajamouli gaaru was happy and satisfied with my work. I did not expect anything beyond but it is God’s wish to get me all the way.”
His illustrious career spanning over two decades in a Telugu Film industry as lyricist bears roots in his humble beginnings. Chandrabose is the youngest of four siblings, and his father worked as a primary school teacher. He is a rank holder in the field of Electrical and Electronics Engineering from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Hyderabad. Chandrabose married Suchitra, a choreographer in the Telugu film industry.
Early in his career, he tried working as a singer in Doordarshan, without success. He then decided to switch to working as a lyricist. A penchant for folk songs and the rich tradition of Telugu poetry nurtured an aspiration to be a lyrics writer. His first song, Chandama Chandanalu Chellipo for the film Taj Mahal directed by his friend Muppalaneni went on to become a super hit, and Chandra Bose never looked back. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Apart from international recognition, Chandrabose has won the Nandi Awards (film awards by the Andhra Pradesh government), Filmfare South awards and SIIMA awards. Some of his most popular songs are ‘Srivalli’ from ‘Pushpa: The Rise’ (2021), ‘Nenunnanani’ from ‘Nenunnanu’ (2004), and ‘Aa Gattununtava’ from ‘Rangasthalam’ (2018).
“These awards are very heavy and these awards have put more responsibility upon me to continue and perform better,” Bose said.
With SS Rajamouli’s magnum opus RRR dancing its way to victory, and Kartiki Gonsalves’ documentary short, produced by Guneet Monga, ‘The Elephant Whisperers’ bagging the award in its category, the 95th Academy Awards marks a significant milestone in the history of Indian cinema.
Representation Matters. If you can see it, you can be it. As the insightful lyricist put it, “Before today, every writer in India only thought of a national win,”. But as he noted, his rip-roaring success will rouse a writer to aspire for more.
Let’s dance to that, shall we – Naatu Naatu….Naatu!
*Thanks to Nagendra Kumar, Sneha Tulika, Saritha Reddy, and Tripura Reddy for the translation.