Naatu Naatu was the first Indian cinema song to be nominated for an Oscar, and it is a song from the Telugu megahit RRR, also known as Rise Roar Revolt. At the Academy Awards, which are being broadcast globally, its singers also gave a performance. With the movie’s US release last year, the song went viral worldwide, generating endless Instagram clips and dance crazes on social media. The crowd loved the song’s rapid tempo and synchronized choreography. Naatu Naatu has won numerous trophies at international competitions and received accolades on a global scale.
Rajamouli’s media appearances and the movie itself make it clear that the two main characters of his film are based on real-life individuals. The Rampa Rebellion of 1922–1924, which saw the Adivasi population of the Godavari Agency in the Madras province wage guerrilla warfare against the British, was led by Alluri, a member of the Kshatriya caste. Between 1928 and 1940, Komaram, a member of the Adilabad Gond tribal community, led an armed insurrection against the Hyderabad nizams. RRR is a movie that presents a fictional tale in which the two of them come together to save a Gond girl who is forcefully taken by the British before the two revolutionaries embark on their individual rebellions. Rajamouli and his film RRR do not, however, see the two revolutionaries equally. Intellectuals support the celebration of the Oscar but warn of the dehumanizing representation of the tribals and Muslims in the Oscar fame RRR.
Dehumanizing Representation of Gonds- The Hindu Nationalist Civilizes the Tribal
There is an emergent model of hegemonic masculinity in RRR which is the muscular Hindu nationalist type, which importantly is the fantasy of the upper-caste Hindu gaze. There are two masculine figures in the film that either embody such masculinities or work towards the glorification of it, for instance, Bheem who is not an upper caste Hindu, but whose character nonetheless glorifies the hegemony of the ideal Hindu utopia.
In the end, RRR is unable to free itself from the constraints of this unsettling structure of the Hindu caste system. It’s vital to remember that S.S. Rajamouli hails from a Hindu upper caste because this is something that comes over in his movies. N.T. Rama Rao (NTR) also belongs to the upper caste. Ram Charan belongs to the Kapu caste, which has a strong influence in the Telugu states.
Rajamouli’s gaze at Raju (who is referred to as Ram for most of the movie) and Bheem is clearly problematic. Both protagonists are physically strong, but Ram is depicted as being smarter. Bheem is mostly shown during the three hours of the movie as a simpleton wilderness dweller in contrast to the clever, diligent, and command-barking Ram. Ram actually thanks his simpleton partner Bheem for his assistance in the very last scene and asks him how he may return the favor. Bheem simply clasps his palms together in front of him and asks Ram to “educate” his people. It appears pretty obvious that Ram, a smart Kshatriya, was given the “savior complex,” but Bheem, a formidable tribal, was not.
Hindu Nationalism and the Dehumanizing Representation of the Muslim
The emotional landscape of these characters displays feelings of anger, betrayal, passion, and steadfastness. They drive their impetus from patriotism (love of the land in RRR) as well as nationalism (quest for national identity and freedom in RRR). But their patriotism and nationalism are explicitly Hindu in nature. So, for these characters, patriotism and nationalism become religion and vice versa. Religion is also culturally present to an extent that the world around them becomes de-facto Hindu. While there is a visible Muslim presence and as opposed to them being shown as outsiders or invaders, they have been depicted as helpful to the larger cause of nationalism that is explicitly Hindu in nature. However, in RRR, the movie may not depict Muslims as the evil foe to be vanquished, but it does depict them as naïve and submissive to a “Hindu unity” of bravery and freedom-fighting (much like Bheem and the tribals are). In other words, it would mean that “You can exist as long as it’s integrated into this invisible hierarchy of the Hindu caste system, where the Brahmins followed by the Kshatriyas are still at the top of everything that matters.”
Majoritarian Hindu Symbolism
The film has a nostalgia for an imagined Hindu past and a fight for a majoritarian Hindu future. The storyline for the film has explicit Hindu symbolism. Ram has the legacy of his father to carry forward to achieve that ideal Hindu future. He moves away from their homeland to fulfill their virtuous destiny. Much like the Hindu God Ram who went into exile to fulfill his father’s wishes only to return as the rightful heir and celebrated leader of the Hindu world. The protagonists are such celebrated characters within the films who have selfless ideals and work for the collective gratification and conscience of their people, either fulfilling the legacy of their fathers or fighting for the honor of women or quite literally saving them. The protagonists’ Ram and Bheem are shown to be a celebration of not being just Indians but being Hindus, Ram being the upper-caste Hindu at that, and Bheem simply by the virtue of being a tribal uncivilized Hindu under the nationalist and therefore religious guidance of his superior Ram.