'Naatu Naatu took local culture to global stage': Lyricist Chandrabose

The lyricist wrote most of the song in 45 minutes

39-Chandrabose-Steven-Spielberg-and-Keeravani-at-the-Oscars Meeting a master: (From left) Chandrabose, Steven Spielberg and Keeravani at the Oscars.

Telugu lyricist Subhash Chandrabose wrote about his village―Challagariga―in Telangana and won applause at the Oscars in Los Angeles.

Three years ago, Chandrabose was sauntering down the streets of Los Angeles with his friends after a hearty meal. But there was still some room for a visual treat. So, the group walked towards the permanent venue of the Academy Awards―the Dolby Theatre. An awestruck Chandrabose desired to step inside, but was turned away by the security.

Back home, he went back to his roots to write ‘Naatu Naatu’, recollecting his rural upbringing, food habits and culture of his village. The song earned him an invite, a seat, and a shot at the Oscars. ‘Naatu Naatu’, which already had a Golden Globe to its name, went on to win the Academy award for best original song.

Chandrabose equates the Oscar journey to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “All I wanted was to win a national award. Now, I have got four international awards and recognition at the Oscars,” said Chandrabose, an engineer-turned-lyricist who has written more than 3,000 songs. Among other things, Chandrabose cherishes rubbing shoulders with actor Tom Cruise at the Oscars. A grounded personality, Chandrabose believes in popularising Indian tradition and culture through his work. ‘Naatu Naatu’ stands testimony to that. Excerpts from an interview:

Q/ Why do you think ‘Naatu Naatu’ clicked with Hollywood?

A/ The beat and rhythm were new, and it had elements of local Indian music. They might not understand the lyrics, but the word ‘Naatu’ caught their attention. Since the word repeats, they liked that sound and got attracted to it. Of course, the synchronised dance also did its work.

Q/ What was the brief given to you for the song? And, how did you compose it?

A/ I was told about the situation where the song was needed―the characters get humiliated, but they recover and perform a lively dance. I wasn’t given any instruction on what should be in the lyrics. But I was told not to criticise or insult any particular group or individual. After the meeting, I got into the car and started framing the lyrics in my mind. I had already got the hook [word]―‘Naatu’. I wrote most of the song in 45 minutes. I read it out to the team and they liked it. But we improvised it over a period of 19 months. We added the rap and the dialogues part to it.

Q/ What was your first impression when you heard it in the studio?

A/ I felt nice. There wasn’t any [big] reaction as we kept hearing it over a period of time. But I did not expect it to reach this stage.

Q/ Will the Oscar win reset your career goals?

A/ It is a great moment of pride for all of us. Since the world sat up and took notice of me, I will try to perfect my work from now on. It is a big responsibility…. I will try to do better with each project. My personal and professional goal is to enjoy writing every song. This goal will remain the same.

Q/ What is your favourite line from the song?

A/ There is a line that goes ‘Yerrajonna rottelona, mirapakathokku kalipinatu’. It is related to my eating habits when I was in my village. It means eating a red jowar roti with chilli paste. That one sentence summarises the food, nutrition, culture and economic status of someone from a rustic village. The song conveys that if you eat nutritious, locally grown food, you can dance energetically like the actors. The lyrics of the song are all memories of what I saw and experienced in my childhood. Art is great. This song took local culture and presented it on a global stage.