This earworm is one that we can all still learn from as filmmakers (while still singing along).
Last night, SS Rajamouli’s big-budget hit, RRR, took home the Oscar for Best Music (Original Song) at the 95th Academy Awards. The song, "Naatu Naatu," has been a smash hit across the world with audience members dancing alongside Komaram Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.) and Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan) at screenings, and a music video that is sure to put a smile on your face.
We are not the only people to rewatch the music video over and over again online.
RRR director SS Rajamouli admitted during his Vanity Fair scene breakdown that his love for the song still rages on. He often revisits the sequence to appreciate everything from the background performances to Prem Rakshith’s choreography tailor-made for the film’s stars.
Check out Rajamouli’s breakdown of the Oscar-winning "Naatu Naatu" sequence, then keep reading to find out what we are taking away from his lessons on directing and collaboration.
What We Learned from "Naatu Naatu"
The first thing that comes to Rajamouli when he looks at the sequence is the location. Because of the monsoon season in India, the cast and crew filmed the sequence in Kyiv at the Presidential Palace. The colors of the palace and the size of the grounds were exactly what was needed for the scene.
However, Rajamouli believed he wouldn’t be able to use the location because of the importance it held in Ukraine and thought he wouldn’t be able to use it. The Ukrainian team informed him that it would be possible to film at the location since filming permits in Ukraine are fairly easy to obtain and are not extremely strict on what locations can and cannot be used.
When it came to the iconic dance, Rajamouli had four requirements: it should be nice, not too difficult, suit both actors, and “it should be fantastic.”
Rakshith’s choreography was tailored to both Charan’s and Rama Rao Jr.’s body language to craft a spectacular dance that their fans expected to see. Finding a style that suits both actors is not an easy feat to accomplish while finding easy steps that audiences could easily do themselves.
Rakshith presented Rajamouli with more than a hundred variations for the 3/4 signature. “I had a difficult time picking up the best 3/4 variations for this style,” Rajamouli said.
Rajamouli’s favorite moment from the song comes from the on-set collaboration between costume designer Rama Rajamouli and Rakshith. When Rakshith saw that suspenders were a part of the costumes, he asked if he could incorporate them into the number. After getting the OK from her, loose suspenders were put on the actors for a quick dance number that Rakshith crafted that day. Loose suspenders had to be used so the actors could move them easily, then they were replaced with tight suspenders throughout the rest of the number.
This was the most difficult step of the dance. Rajamouli understood that his number was fun for the audience, but it was a fight scene in the story. Because both characters are there with a purpose, they cannot physically fight. Instead, they must fight with dance which becomes a competition. Everything is fast and crafted to have the same energy as a fight sequence.
Rajamouli’s shot composition emphasizes the importance of the dance’s energy by never losing focus on the characters’ steps. By using simple tracking forward and zoom-back shots, Rajamouli was able to capture the kinetic energy from the main actors and the angry English background characters. The director’s style also leans on longer takes. Although he wanted the final shot of the dance sequences to be one take, Rajamouli understood that specific shots were needed to establish the mood and story progression for the audiences to know where the story ends when the song is finished.
“Dance is not about how acrobatic you are, how perfectly you can do your step,” Rajamouli says about the dance sequences in his films. “There are two important things. One is that you should really, really enjoy your dance. Only then can [the] audience really get the enjoyment out of your dance. And second thing is, like, every moment of the dance, you are conveying something to the audience. Some kind of emotion.”
While the dance sequence can be in service of the fans, providing them with moments that they would want to see and replicate themselves, the number is always in service of pushing the story forward. It is a storytelling element we often associate with musicals and operas, but it is wonderful to see it in a big-budget film.
From collaboration within the crew to knowing what edits to make for the audience, Rajamouli’s "Naatu Naatu" is a truly unforgettable sequence in a film full of unforgettable moments.
What shot or sequence from RRR inspires you as a filmmaker? Let us know in the comments below!