Sona Mohapatra - Singing Out for Women.
The documentary film by Deepti Gupta, Shut up Sona ,will be screened as part of the Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival.
THROUGH HER SONG Mujhe kya bechega Rupaiya (‘You think you can put a price tag on me?’), Sona Mohapatra tears into those who uphold the ideals of patriarchy and practice of dowry. This is the song that brought her into the limelight in the third episode of the TV show hosted by the actor Aamir Khan, Satyamev Jayate (‘Truth alone triumphs’), dedicated to creating a dialogue about the many social evils that exist in society. She declares in her song, ‘Oh dear parents, this is the time to say no! Do not give in to the needs of society, rituals and traditions and marry me off to a person who can only see greed and not the value in me!’ Her song is a powerful rebuke to those who are constantly pushing daughters to get married to fulfil their ‘duties’. Another song presented by her at this show, Ghar yaad aata hai mujhe (‘I miss my home’), speaks for the countless women in India who have left their own surnames, aspirations, relationships and homes to help make someone else’s.
Sona had studied engineering, completed an MBA from Pune and worked for some years in the corporate sector before she decided to follow her dream of being a singer. Her career began in marketing and advertising and she produced jingles for various brands, including Unilever and Tata salt. For those who may be familiar with Indian ads, Closeup’s Paas Aao Na might ring a bell.
She found her path as a musician, and has come to be known as an artist and singer who brought a fresh breeze with her music and lyrics – especially when pitched against those Bollywood music directors who don’t think twice before putting out an ‘item number’ that reflects ingrained sexist and racist mindsets (Beyonce sharma jayegi is the latest example: tujhe dekh ke goriya, Beyonce sharma jayegi, ’Oh fair skinned lady, you outshine Beyonce’).
Sona’s voice not only found expression through her songs, but also through her social campaigns. She has spoken out against sexual harassment, having experienced it herself. She raised the issue nationally in social media posts about the experiences of other women and girls, including minors. Music director Anu Malik had to step down as judge on Indian Idol amidst the #MeToo allegations (India Today). She called out another popular artist and singer, Kailash Kher, famous for his songs Teri deewani and Saiyyan, for touching her inappropriately during a professional meeting and later suggesting she skip a sound-check and go to his room instead for a 'catch-up' (see the Hindustan Times report).
Sona challenges not only the predators, but also the culture of collusion in the music industry where decision-makers and organisers continue to work with offending artists. She has been asked to remain silent, back down and retract by several other powerful men in the industry, such as Sonu Nigam, who asked her husband on social media to ‘keep her in check’. That is not Sona. Her songs sing out for the free and fearless life she wants to lead. She is the guiding light uniting the voices of the millions of women who are constantly told to shut up, suck it up, let go, compromise, adjust!
So what does it take for a free-spirited, socially-conscious, driven and ambitious artist to work and survive in the Indian music industry? This is where a documentary, Shut up Sona, comes in. It could not be more timely as more courageous women are coming forward to demand equality and respect. Directed by Deepti Gupta, the film will shine a light on an extraordinary artist who has led the way. For this the title Shut up Sona! is apt, but she just does not, and because of that, the world is a better place.