M.M. Keeravani: 'Naatu Naatu' composer who created history for India by winning the first Oscar
Keeravani began his speech by saying that he grew up listening to American vocal and instrumental duo The Carpenters
Music composer, singer, and lyricist, Koduri Marakathamani Keeravani, popularly known as M. M. Keeravani created history on Monday by accepting the first Oscars awarded to an Indian feature film.
Composed by Keeravani, SS Rajamouli's 'RRR' chart-busting song 'Naatu Naatu' was awarded the 'Best Original Song' Award at the 95th Academy Awards on March 12, at the Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles, California.
Sharing the Oscars stage with lyricist Chandrabose, Keeravani gave his acceptance speech while singing to the tune of The Carpenters’ 1970s song Top of the World.
He began his speech by saying that he grew up listening to American vocal and instrumental duo The Carpenters.
"I grew up listening to The Carpenters and now here I am with the Oscars. There was only one wish on my mind, so was Rajamouli’s and our families...RRR has to win…Pride of every Indian…must put me on the top of the world," he hummed.
Keeravani has received immense praise for his 'Naatu Naatu', as the song has emerged as one of the trailblazers from Indian cinema to receive recognition at several international awards, such as the Golden Globes 2023, HCA Awards 2022, and the 28th Critics Choice Awards among others.
Keeravaani (61) was born into a Telugu speaking family in Kovvur, West Godavari district, Andhra Pradesh; his father Koduri Siva Shakthi Datta was a lyricist and screenwriter for Telugu cinema. His brother, Kalyani Malik, is also a music director and singer. He also happens to be the cousin of 'RRR' director SS Rajamouli.
The composer launched into the Telugu film industry in 1987, when he first began his career as an assistant music director to Telugu composer K. Chakravarthy and Malayalam composer C. Rajamani.
The 1990s film 'Manasu Mamatha' was however, his first big break as a music composer, he composed the entire soundtrack for the Moulee film. Further, Ram Gopal Varma's 1991 blockbuster film Kshana Kshanam solidified Keeravani an established music director, as all songs of the movie went on to become top chartbusters and Keeravani was flooded with offers from all across south Indian film industries.
He continued with Telugu and Tamil films, venturing onto Kannada till 1995, when he scored the music for Mahesh Bhatt's Telugu-Hindi bilingual thriller 'Criminal', leading to Keeravani's foray into mainstream composing. He went on to compose music for Bollywood films such as Sudhir Mishra's 'Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin' to Mahesh Bhatt's 'Zakhm', Pooja Bhatt's 'Jism' and 'Rog', and the Akshay Kumar-starrer 'Baby'.
A frequent collaborator of 'RRR' director and cousin SS Rajamouli, Keeravani worked with him on the latter's directorial debut 'Student No 1', which also starred Jr. NTR in lead; he has also contributed extensively to the 'Bahubali' movies as a music composer and director.
Today Keeravani is hailed as one of the strongest music composers from the South film industry.
In the Variety interview following the Oscar ceremony, Keeravani said the song’s beat had a great deal to do with the popularity.
"The beat is 6/8, that’s not very frequently heard from the West, but more frequently heard from India and sometimes from Africa and countries like that. To be precise, it’s even a South Indian kind of beat, not so much North Indian. And in 'Naatu Naatu' this beat took another dimension and another level of BPM (beats per minute) which is very rarely heard in the West. So that’s what primarily got the attention of the Western audience," he explained.
Upon being asked what the inspiration was behind 'Naatu Naatu', the composer said that it is the "pure original cultural genre of Indian music, particularly South Indian music".
"The song has lots of percussion and the rustic texture of the music is brought out by the beautiful words written by Chandrabose and steps composed by choreographer Prem Rakshith. So it was a great deal of team work that brought us this far and led us to bag this greatest award," he said.
"I picked Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava to do justice to this melody and they gave their best. That’s why the song is what it is now," the composer lauded the singers.
"The song has to make you forget everything, and not just the viewer who is watching the movie, but the characters from the story, too, need to forget every other thing happening around them and pay their full attention towards the song. And the coda, the end part of the song, consists of so much stamina, you cannot call it merely a song, it is an action sequence," he further added.
'Naatu Naatu' won against ‘Applause’ from 'Tell It Like A Woman', ‘Hold My Hand’ from 'Top Gun: Maverick', ‘Lift Me Up’ from 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever', and ‘This is Life’ from 'Everything Everywhere All At Once'.