It is Ukraine with a difference


It is Ukraine with a Difference! With the Power of Indian Cinema once again coming to the fore. The now immensely popular song sequence was shot with a mix of Indian and foreign artistes, some of them local students who gladly volunteered once they realised it was a Rajamouli film. We interviewed Natarajan Ramji, the man who helped identify the location and oversaw the logistics.

Naatu Naatu will be the highlight of this year’s Oscars, with the original cast flying for the program, performing the song sequence, yet another big recognition of the originality and vibrancy of the entire episode.

It was shot in Ukraine, mid 2021, at the height of the pandemic when empty airports greeted the crew that went for shooting the song sequence.

CrossSection caught up with Natarajan Ramji, the magician who scouts locations, when we was busy yet again in Egypt. He has been instrumental for many a success story, seen very often at events in Mumbai and elsewhere where locations are being promoted.

The efforts that went into the making of the song have been recognised with international accolades including the Best Song award at the Critics Choice Awards and the Best Original Song award at the Golden Globe Awards.

Actors Jr NTR and Ram Charan have stolen the show with their synchronised steps in the ‘Naatu Naatu’ song in the Telugu movie RRR, but a lot more than perfect dance moves went into the making of the hit number. It is always said that such performances, that go into the making of a classic, is always the result to effective teamwork!

More than a hundred foreign actors participated in the ballroom party in vintage costumes, with as many Indians scattered across the scene in early 1900’s period costumes, the song required the coming together of almost 1,000 people every day for more than two weeks.

It was in June 2021, while the pandemic still posed a major threat. They visited six locations handpicked by Natarajan.

“Among the locations I showed, Rajamouli picked one outdoor spot for the song, which turned out to be Ukraine President Zelensky’s official residence, known as Mariinsky Palace. Imagine shooting a movie at the Rashtrapati Bhavan or the Prime Minister’s Office? We were fortunate in that my teammate from Ukraine, Anna Palanchuk and I, had a good connection with the city mayor, who was at one time a boxing champion himself”, he said. Not to forget that the President Zelensky himself is also a former actor, a most successful comedian.

It was Rajamouli’s filmmaking abilities and the potential popularity that the movie would give to the location that won the final permission. It was the power of Indian cinema that won the day again.

What sort of pricing? There was no given cost, as the venue had never been let out before. Negotiating a reasonable price did not therefore pose a problem.

The palace is where the president receives his foreign counterparts. It is where Boris Johnson and where President Macron met the Ukraine president in subsequent meetings as the war has raged on in the last one year.

The RRR team of about 140 Indians travelled to Ukraine via a special Qatar Airways flight from Hyderabad to Kyiv in August 2021.

“We took COVID tests in both countries, and luckily all were negative.

We began shooting preparations and typically Rajamouli would be down in the hotel lobby at 6.00 am every day, shared Natarajan.

“Foreign actors, vintage party costumes, Indians in waiter wear, vintage cars, a 50-piece orchestra troupe in costumes. There were at least 500 artists, between 300-500 people worked behind the scenes over two weeks” is what went into the song sequence, said Natarjan.

The efforts that went into the making of the song have been recognised with international accolades including the Best Song award at the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Best Original Song award at the Golden Globe Awards.

Natarajan said he was fond of sharing one specific incident on the sets, whenever he is sharing with the media. “At one occasion, when we were about to start shooting, the executive producer Srivalli garu and costume designer Rama garu (spouses of music composer Keeravani and director Rajamouli respectively) suggested that we acquire a grand piano to make the setting look more complete and grander. It took us some few hours to get one, we were lucky, and it did give a royal look to the song.”

The families of Keeravani and Rajamouli were an active part of the film and were involved closely to coordinate the proceedings.

It is estimated that the RRR team spent almost 40 days in Ukraine, wherein the song sequence alone cost about Rs 15 crore.

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