GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – The 2023 Oscars were a sign of good things to come for the Indian movie industry collectively known as Bollywood, according to a former movie star living in the Upstate.

On Sunday the 2023 Oscars recognized Indian blockbuster ‘RRR’ with the award for best original song for ‘Naatu Naatu,’ and showcased a performance of the track – and the energetic dance which accompanies it – on a national stage.

It is the first song from an Indian movie to ever win an Oscar.

To Sunitha Raj, a former Bollywood actress now living in Greenville, the moment was a magical one.

“For us as Indians it was a phenomenal moment. For me as a movie star, it was beyond imagination,” said Raj on Friday.

Over a 10 year period Raj starred in more than 50 Bollywood films including remakes of popular American films like Sleeping Beauty and Mrs. Doubtfire, often in a leading role. Today, she is a dance instructor living and teaching in Greenville.

“The Oscars, when I was in the industry, it was not something we thought about. We were so far apart, continents away. We didn’t think it was possible,” said Raj.

Since moving to America, Raj has been doing her part to share some of the Bollywood culture and style. She operates a dance studio, NRITHYANJALI School Of Dance (NSOD), in Greenville, and recently began teaching dance at Senior Action in Wade Hampton.

Last year, Raj’s NSOD students performed Naatu Naatu at a recital, and now she is teaching it to seniors at Senior Action in Wade Hampton.

“My older students are very similar to my four-and-five-year-olds. They all have the same amount of energy, the same amount of love and openness to do anything, to try anything,” she said.

Now that a popular film has crossed over into America and taken home a major award, Raj predicts there will be more to make the leap and be successful.

“It is the first of more to come,” she said. “It starts that little spark for people to see what Bollywood is, what is ‘RRR.’ That spark of curiosity can make people want to explore more and see more films and what else is out there.”