In his Oscar campaign, filmmaker SS Rajamouli put a lot of effort into establishing that RRR was a Telugu-language Indian film. But, popular TV host Jimmy Kimmel called it a "Bollywood movie."
Last Updated: 04.02 AM, Mar 15, 2023
Telugu movie RRR created history after it won the Oscar for its smash hit Naatu Naatu song in the best original song category. And that marked the end of director SS Rajamouli and his team's months of non-stop campaign. And all these months running up to the Oscars, Rajamouli has been very particular about establishing a simple fact for the American audience that RRR is not a "Bollywood film."
Every time he introduced his movie to the audience he described it as a "Telugu-language Indian film". Not that he gave such a clear introduction to the movie once and forgot all about it. He did it every single time before he got into the other details of the movie. And yet, his efforts didn't fetch the desired results.
In his over 14-minute inaugural monologue at the 95th Oscars, the show's host Jimmy Kimmel paid an acknowledgement to the popularity of RRR. He used its reference while advising the winners to keep their speeches within the allotted time. "That doesn't mean we don't want to hear you speak. We want your speeches to be moving and we want also want to keep it moving. So speech goes on too long, this year we are not going to play you off-stage. Instead, we have a group of performers from RRR, who are gonna dance you off stage," said Jimmy Kimmel. And he was doing so well till that point much to the excitement of the fans of Indian movies to see an Indian language film make a mark like that at the Academy Awards. But, he botched up when he carelessly, more accurately for the sake of the convenience of the gag, used the term Bollywood to describe the movie.
It seems for some it's hard to comprehend India's diversity. A simple google search would have helped the writers of Kimmel's monologue to understand the importance of sticking to the right description. Even the who's who of the Hindi film industry doesn't like the euphemism —Bollywood. Many have come to tolerate it, not accept it but just tolerate it, after years of unsuccessful attempts to undo this term from the memory of popular culture. It's safe to assume that the writers wanted to leverage the popularity of the word Bollywood to pack a punch in the end.
"If you go too long, we're going to Bollywood 'Gong Show' your ass," Kimmel says at the end of his monologue before he's forced out off the stage by the dancers performing the Naatu Naatu steps. Now imagine the same punchline by replacing 'Bollywood' with 'Telugu'. It doesn't have the same ring, right? But, at least it wouldn't have been entirely wrong and insensitive to more than 85 million people, who speak this language in India. Telugu is the 4th most spoken language in India which has a population of more than 1.4 billion.
The writers of the Oscars wouldn't have made this faux pas only if they knew how much it would've meant for the native Telugu speakers the world over. Composer AR Rahman made all the Tamil-speaking people around the world swell with pride when he said a few words (Ellapugazhum Iraivanukee, which means 'all glory to God') in Tamil in his Oscar acceptance speech in 2009. It won't be an exaggeration to say that the oversight in the writing robbed the Telugu audience of a similar memorable moment.
Especially, at a time when the Academy is under fire for its shacky records when it comes to matters of diversity and inclusion. This lousy faux pas is not a good look on the Academy. For it to become truly diverse, it must learn to acknowledge the diversity of all forms and shapes. Not what's convenient or easy.
If the writers of Kimmel's monologue had done a little research on the Telugu film industry, they would have found out that it also goes by the moniker, Tollywood. "If you go too long, we're going to Tollywood 'Gong Show' your ass." This might have just worked fine and everyone would have been happy. While the Academy is making incremental efforts to add diversity to the award show, maybe it's high time it also starts considering diversifying its writer's room.
Rajamouli's campaign may have helped RRR win an Oscar, but it seemed to have failed to make some people understand the simple distinction that not all Indian movies are Bollywood movies.