Just about everybody is dancing to Naatu Naatu from SS Rajamouli’s global blockbuster RRR – from fans in India and elsewhere in the world to voters at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association that organises the Golden Globe Awards.
On January 10, the Globes named Naatu Naatu as the winner in the Best Original Song – Motion Picture category over the likes of Taylor Swift, Rihanna and Lady Gaga – a first for India. Among the people music composer MM Keeravani thanked in his speech was Prem Rakshith, the song’s choreographer. The honour was completely unexpected, Rakshith told Scroll.in.
Rakshith has been working on every one of Rajamouli’s films since Chatrapathi in 2005. Rajamouli’s brief for Naatu Naatu (it roughly translates into home-grown or native) was a number in which the Indian heroes out-danced their British colonisers.
When shooting for Naatu Naatu in August 2021 in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv at the Mariinskyi Palace – which is also President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s official residence – Rakshith could only think of one thing: “saving myself”.
The song is one of the key moments in Rajamouli’s pre-Independence drama, which stars Ram Charan and NT Rama Rao Jr as fictionalised versions of the revolutionaries Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem. Charan’s Rama and Rao Jr’s Bheem join forces to overthrow a despotic British general. Before they do so, they display their ability to act in unison at a British ball.
“I had two superstars, so much pressure,” Rakshith recalled. “I had to match both their steps as their styles are different.” If Ram Charan is graceful, NT Rama is energetic – as different as “Hrithik Roshan and Prabhudeva”, as Rakshith put it.
Among Rakshith’s inspirations were the Tom & Jerry cartoons and the silent films of Charlie Chaplin. At least 110 moves were tried and tested for the hook step.
The preparations took nearly two months. Rakshith’s assistants had torn ligaments during rehearsals. In Kyiv, the temperature was over 30 degrees.
Naatu Naatu begins when a racist British officer lambasts Bheem’s inability to waltz: “Look at all these brown buggers. What do they know about art? About finesse? About dance?”
The response is a display of energy and co-ordination unlike anything we have recently seen in the movies. The intricate hook step alone has inspired numerous fan videos.
Rakshith has made it easy for everyone to ‘Naatu’ by posting a tutorial on YouTube. Among the biggest compliments he received for the song was a phone call from Prabhudeva. “He congratulated me, and that was huge for me,” Rakshith recalled.
The 44-year-old choreographer was born in Puducherry and raised in Chennai. His early assignments included a stint as a dancer in a Telugu film in 1994. Among those who helped Rakshith during his drudge years in Hyderabad were Kallol and Madhuri Biswas, who ran a dance school where he worked as a teacher.
Rakshith is currently working on Pushpa 2: The Rule and Indian 2. Apart from Naatu Naatu, the songs that Rakshith encourages his fans to seek out on YouTube are Manohari (Baahubali), Bangaru Kodipetta (Magadheera), and Naachore Naachore and Nagamalli (Yamadonga).
You could add another video to the list: Laurel and Hardy doing the Naatu.