Sona Mohapatra Curated

Indian singer

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This profile has been added by users(CURATED) : Users who follow Sona Mohapatra have come together to curate all possible video, text and audio interview to showcase Sona Mohapatra's journey, experiences, achievements, advice, opinion in one place to inspire upcoming singers. All content is sourced via different platforms and have been given due credit.

  • How do you look at the #MeToo movement in India?

    Awareness about what is right and wrong has gone up dramatically. A lot of production houses have systems in place in sync with the POSH Act where they have to have somebody to take cognisance of bad behaviour. This makes the cast and crew feel safer.

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  • With both engineering and MBA degrees, how did you end up becoming a singer?

    Yes, initially it was very difficult for me to quit my well established corporate career to become a singer. But that was my dream and today I am living it. I never wanted to become a playback singer. I wanted to be an artist who could express her own music.

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  • You have been a known face in Bollywood with a considerable number of hits to your name now. Why haven’t you debuted in Ollywood?

    Honestly, I have not been approached by anyone from the Odia industry. I think they still don’t recognize me. Many non-Odia singers like Sonu Nigam, Udit Narayan And Sunidhi Chauhan have been approached for singing Odia songs. I think as I am an Odia, these people in the industry have taken me for granted. I have been questioned and blamed for issues at times by the people here. But I don’t think I have to prove to anyone that I am an Odia. Whenever I get a chance to say good about Odisha and its people, I have always been proud to do so. But no one has celebrated me and given me a chance or an invitation to come here to perform till today in Ollywood. If they ever approach me and I find the song right for me, I will surely do it.

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  • You have sung impactful songs like ‘Mujhe Kya Bechega Rupaiyaa’ and ‘Bekhauff’. What do you have to say about violence against women?

    I think I was born to sing the kind of songs like on Satyamev Jayate. I have always stood up for women rights in the society. I can tell you my experience. When I was studying engineering in CET, Bhubaneswar, girls were not allowed to wear jeans, because people thought it was indecent. We were not allowed to go out after 6 o’ clock and locked inside the hostel. Women were discriminated, treated as inferior in those days. But as of now, the orthodox thinking has changed a lot and women are given more priority. I have been married since years, but I have retained my surname as Mohapatra because I feel women are at par as men in the society.

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  • How was your experience having worked with Aamir Khan in Satyamev Jayate?

    It was a wonderful experience working with Aamir Khan because when you work with people with similar thoughts and beliefs, you create something that lasts for a lifetime. Besides singing songs in Satyamev Jayate, I also worked as the executive producer for the show. I will always cherish the memories that I earned during the show. Partnership with Aamir was one of the turning points of my life and the show has taught me how to control my emotions.

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  • How was your experience having worked with Aamir Khan in Satyamev Jayate?

    It was a wonderful experience working with Aamir Khan because when you work with people with similar thoughts and beliefs, you create something that lasts for a lifetime. Besides singing songs in Satyamev Jayate, I also worked as the executive producer for the show. I will always cherish the memories that I earned during the show. Partnership with Aamir was one of the turning points of my life and the show has taught me how to control my emotions.

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  • What is your take on the ‘Rangabati’ controversy?

    I think controversy is actually made by a very few people. I don’t think I have done anything wrong with the Rangabati song, so why should I be guilty? As an artist I feel that you should reinvent your root’s music before it becomes too old and lost. Therefore, I have always tried to blend Odia music in a way that is popular today and will continue to be so in future, and also make my language known all across wherever I can.

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  • What is your take on the ‘Rangabati’ controversy?

    I think controversy is actually made by a very few people. I don’t think I have done anything wrong with the Rangabati song, so why should I be guilty? As an artist I feel that you should reinvent your root’s music before it becomes too old and lost. Therefore, I have always tried to blend Odia music in a way that is popular today and will continue to be so in future, and also make my language known all across wherever I can.

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  • Have you ever lost out on work for being unapologetic and upfront about your thoughts?

    Of course, I have lost out on work but I have also found the kind of work that really suits me. I genuinely believe that when you are your authentic real-self every day, you find the best kind of allies, you find the best kind of work and you find a very long-term career path. You are not here conveniently for today and tomorrow, you are there for the long run. I have only benefitted in the long run.

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  • Why do you call Gauhar Jaan India’s first music superstar?

    Her face was on matchboxes of the country when we didn’t have billboards. To me the courtesans of India were the first financially independent women of the country. Otherwise you were somebody’s wife or daughter and could not own property. But courtesans had their own property, jewellery and could tell a man to take a walk if they so desired. Of course there was also exploitation. After Independence we suddenly made out the salons and kothas into these seemingly terrible places. Unfortunately, we never gave the courtesans the respect of an Ustad, or Pandit, or big titles. 100 years since then, we still don’t have the title of an Ustad or Pandit for women musicians.

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  • Why don’t we have many songs being given to women?

    It is because the male actors, who are now the producers, are part of an allboys club. If more women turn producers, they would call the shots. It is the songs that make actors larger than life in Bollywood but our heroines don’t seem to have the ability to demand two songs in their own films. All of it is connected I think.

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  • How important is it for women to seize their own narrative?

    In India we have this syndrome of waiting for the big break. But I did a job to keep my dream alive. Having more feminine perspective in the stories that are being told and the songs that are being sung is paramount. When you hear Lataji singing, Parvat ke peeche Chambe da gaon, she comes across as a storyteller par excellence. Today we have come to a stage where there are stories being written for women and no songs being given to them. Arijit Singh released Tum hi ho in the same year as I did Ambarsariya. In the same year he sang 100 songs and I didn’t get one for three years. I recently watched Bombshell, in which Nicole Kidman stars and she has produced it. #MeToo is at the heart of it. When I watched it, I felt this cathartic group hug. Many more women need to take charge of telling their own stories.

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  • What inspired you to produce Shut up Sona?

    When I decided to make such a film, I felt I was choking as an artiste. I wasn’t finding enough opportunities to sing. The number of songs in the mainstream are in single digits. All of this was disturbing me. I knew I wasn’t meant to be just a singer. I’ve always wanted to engage with the socio-economic political environment and it shows in my music and my storytelling. Making a film helped me achieve these goals.

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  • What about the film producers who sell the rights to their songs to these labels?

    Film producers should not be willing to give away all the rights of the musicians to these labels just for some extra money. They need to have a spine. Aamir Khan has that spine. Sanjay Leela Bhansali too. Aamir Khan Productions retains the rights over the music of its films. Aamir has respect for the fact that we are also are the creators of the music and we should be allowed to perform it. I have been singing my renditions from Satyameva Jayate everywhere I want to. I even sing a few lines of those songs in my documentary film Shut Up Sona. Aamir understands that creating something is a collaborative process and it's high time other film producers start doing the same.

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  • Shut Up Sona points out a lot of things that are wrong with Indian society. In such a scenario, what gives you hope?

    I have always been optimistic about how conversations shape the world. People ask me, “Don’t you get exhausted fighting trolls?” Despite the acid attack and rape threats, I continue to speak out because if we don’t let the sh*t come to the top, it won’t get cleared. Things are blowing up around the world—we are at a flashpoint on many issues. When we completed a year of the #MeToo movement, everybody said it was unsuccessful as none of the perpetrators was punished. My doctor, an amazing woman, said, “Kuch to nahin hua (Nothing happened).” I replied, “What did you expect? People would be paraded to jail in handcuffs like in a Bollywood film?” That’s not how things happen—change takes time. Thanks to #MeToo, a conversation is going on and people have become conscious about right and wrong behaviour, and that there would be consequences of their actions. That in itself is great! I relentlessly fought the campaign to get Anu Malik out of Indian Idol and he was finally chucked out. So things are changing—it could happen faster, but it’s not all doom and gloom. The film is a part of this change.

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  • You frequently engage with critics and trolls on social media. Does it detract from your art or does it inspire you?

    It energises me because I’m deeply connected to society and the grassroots. I’m not saying all of India lives on Twitter—it’s a very limited snapshot. But I also travel a lot around the country and am in touch with a lot of universes, which inform me. I think engaging with your environment makes you a better artist. Of course, sometimes you need isolation. I put out a lot of music every year, no matter what. I don’t rely on Bollywood and that takes a lot of effort. So I take a break once in a while and disconnect from the press and social media.

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  • Throughout the film Shut up Sona, you point out instances of sexism in society. What were the formative influences in your feminist thinking?

    I have had no academic inputs or read any feminist literature. My value and belief system is instinctively driven by justice and fairness. If I see anything that feels unfair to me, it drives me mad. So it’s not just about women—it’s very obvious that they hold the shorter end of the stick—I fight for the underdog and I’ve always seen women as underdogs. While growing up, my mother, an accomplished scholar who worked all her life and raised three daughters, was always bossed over. She didn’t have the kind of freedom you would think she should have had. So every time I pick up the gauntlet for gender rights, my mother definitely is a driving force, but it is the idea of fairness and justice that drives me more than anything else.

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  • You extensively draw upon the legacies of Khusro, Kabir and Mirabai in the film Shut up Sona. Who are the other artistes who inspire you?

    I have always been impressed and inspired by artistes who have gone beyond entertainment. Things of beauty, of course, last forever, but the beauty that helps you, makes you think, creates an impact in terms of social change impresses me most. We have artistes like these across the world and across times, such as Harry Belafonte, Nina Simone, George Michael and T.M. Krishna. Mira was a rebel rock star preaching egalitarianism in a society where caste was deeply entrenched. Khusro helped unite India linguistically. Kabir… I could talk endlessly about them. We explored these artistes at such length that we can cut out 2-3 more films from the footage we have.

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  • Your interaction with the caretakers of the Nizamuddin Dargah is one of the most poignant in the film. How do you see that sequence in light of a Sufi foundation criticising the music video of Tori Surat?

    I visited the dargah before the controversy happened. That might not come across clearly in the film because the structure is not linear. If I had visited after, it might have been difficult to enter the shrine, who knows… I’m not sure. I found the dargah’s custodians among the most gracious, generous hosts. They talked about how in 800 years no woman has sung in the shrine, but after spending five hours there, chatting with them, when I asked, “Thoda gaa loon main (Can I sing?)”, they hesitated, but they let me sing—and not only did they let me, they joined along. It was such a beautiful act of love.

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  • As a performer, you have been in the public gaze. But how was it having a camera trained on you all the time, even in your private spaces?

    Not very easy, but Deepti already had the privilege of a very intimate place in my life. And we realised that every time there was a crew, it would not be the same, especially because the film provides a window into my personal life in terms of my interactions with my husband, Ram Sampath, who is very shy. Pursuing someone for three years and shooting a documentary is a difficult process. Of course, there were times when things were too personal to pick up a camera and record. Documentaries in the past rarely caught India’s attention, but these days, people seek more authentic storytelling. As an artist who is active on social media and connects with her audience on a daily basis, I noticed that my fans love the behind-the-scenes when I’m touring—sometimes much more than the fancily shot music videos. Some of the Facebook live sessions I do unplugged give us millions of views despite the terrible audio quality. On the other hand, you might have to pay to promote a snazzy music video. People across the world are seeking authentic stories, so it’s a great time to put out such a film.

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  • Shut Up Sona seems like a travelogue, featuring locales as diverse as Chittorgarh, Vrindavan and Warangal. How did that happen?

    I started out with the idea of writing a love letter to my country—a country that is not comfortable with my emancipation but hopefully getting there. India has some of the most generous people I have ever met. At the Mira temple in Vrindavan, the custodians live on alms and hardly have any resources. Yet the generosity with which they hosted, fed and welcomed us the five times we went there was extraordinary. I haven’t seen that kind of generosity anywhere in the world. The film helped me reconnect with that love for my country after a long time. India is amazing—it lives in so many ages, so many different universes and they all coexist, it’s crazy. The journey of making the film has been the greatest dose of inspiration for me to get back to my music and create more art.

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  • You were working on your film Shut up Sona for three years. How did you feel on seeing the final cut?

    It is difficult for me to be objective, though I must admit that one thing bothered me—I thought there would be more of my music in the film, especially footage of concerts. There is that vain side of me—about 200,000 people to come to my shows, but the industry and magazine covers don’t realise what reach musicians have in India. I wanted to see more of that, but I gave complete liberty to Deepti to make it her way. As the protagonist, I need to step away from the movie.

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  • Why did you produce a film about yourself?

    A lot of people in India, without even seeing the film, jibed, “Oh, she made a film on herself?” But then, who apart from me would make such a film? Women now are taking charge of their own narratives. I was tired of missing out on opportunities in the entertainment industry that men have monopolised. They say, “We have given you this opportunity. You should be grateful.” I didn’t want to be grateful anymore, so I decided to take charge of my own destiny. I realised that it was not just me who was losing out on work for being opinionated. I am a numbers-oriented person; I don’t just operate on feelings. So I collated data and the results were shocking: over time, the representation of women in the entertainment industry is going down. Women never win reality shows. Out of every 100 songs on the radio or in mainstream releases, around eight have a female voice. Romantic duets don’t have enough lines sung by women. In the seven years of the NH7 Weekender music festival, the representation of female voices has not more than eight per cent. I felt like I was choking as I was not getting enough opportunities to sing—what do you do if you want to express yourself as an artiste? That’s why I got in touch with Deepti Gupta (the director of Shut Up Sona), who directed two of my most interesting music videos in the past decade—Aaja Ve and Dil Jale. We set out on this journey and 300 hours of footage later, this documentary came about.

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