Posted on March 16, 2023 at 7:43 pm

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Why the ‘Elephant Whisperers’ and ‘RRR’ Oscar Wins Are a Step Forward for South Asian Representation

For the first time in history, two Indian productions won Oscar awards, bringing South Asian representation in the Western film industry to the forefront. 

Photo courtesy of Guneet Monga’s Instagram

The 95th Academy Awards, which were held at Dolby Theater in Hollywood, LA on March 12th, 2023, made history for South Asian representation in the film industry. S.S. Rajamouli’s ‘RRR’ became the first Indian production to win the ‘Best Original Song’ Academy Award for ‘Naatu Naatu’, beating Rihanna’s ‘Lift Me Up’ and Lady Gaga’s ‘Hold My Hand’. 

Photo Credits: RRR Promo Team
Photo Credits: RRR Promo Team

‘Naatu Naatu’, written by M.M. Keeravani and Chandrabose, has taken not only India, but the whole world by storm. The song was a frontrunner to win this year’s Oscar award, as it already won a Golden Globe award, as well as a Critics Choice Award. 

Another massive win for the Indian film industry at the Oscars was Guneet Monga produced short documentary film, “Elephant Whisperers”, winning the ‘Best Short Documentary Film’ award. With the win, “Elephant Whisperers” became the first Indian film to ever win an Academy Award in that category. 

The film, directed by Kartiki Gonsalves, is a Tamil-language film that focuses on the bond between a couple and an orphaned baby elephant, Raghu. In December 2022, the film was released globally on Netflix. 

Why do these wins signal a shift in South Asian representation? 

‘RRR’ has become a global sensation, with stars Ram Charan and JR. NTR, along with director S.S. Rajamouli, being interviewed by Variety magazine, Good Morning America, and late night host Seth Meyer. This type of large-scale media attention on an Indian film has never happened in the U.S. before, and it has helped shine a light on the films being created and produced all over the Indian subcontinent.

‘Naatu Naatu’ was also the first song created and produced by an Indian filmmaker to be performed at the Academy Awards. The performance was sung by Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava, and earned a standing ovation from the crowd present at the Dolby Theater.

With the Academy Awards closing out this year’s awards season, South Asians all over the world are inspired and hopeful to see more inclusivity and representation in Hollywood after the success of ‘RRR’ and ‘Elephant Whisperers’.

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