Papon makes music after the storm

Sep 09, 2018, 08:27 IST | Aastha Atray Banan

As Papon well and truly puts a child molestation charge behind him to tour and make music, the industry calls #metoo a media preoccupation

Papon makes music after the storm
A file photo of Papon. The singer, say observers, is spending more time back home in Assam than Mumbai. Pic/Nimesh Dave

Last Friday, Angarag Mahanta, popularly known to his fans as Papon, tweeted about his latest song from the Richa Chadda-starrer Ishqeria. He has both, sung and composed Toofani Hawa. A day prior, he spoke of headlining Chandigarh's Lager n Barrel Festival, and thanked organisers for the vibe at the Chalo India Convention in New Jersey, a three-day event hosted by The Association of Indian Americans in North America. Last month saw him heap praise on the team of veteran composer Anu Malik and writer Varun Grover, with whom he had earlier collaborated on the hit track Moh Moh Ke Dhaage in 2015. The trio is back with Chaav Laga, from Varun Dhawan/Anushka Sharma-starrer Sui Dhaaga. "So much love coming our way for this song," he wrote about the track that has enjoyed 11 million views, since it released a week ago.

Malik, with whom he also worked in the Qarib Qarib Singlle track, Daana Paani, refused to speak and his manager suggested we reach out to Papon himself. An abrupt break in the singer's Twitter timeline after February 24 until he resurfaced in June to discuss Qasam Kha Li from Bhavesh Joshi, speaks of why Malik prefers to distance himself from the discussion.

Papon posted a picture from the Chalo India convention he played at in New Jersey, on his social media handles. Pic/Instagram
Papon posted a picture from the Chalo India convention he played at in New Jersey, on his social media handles. Pic/Instagram

After a video surfaced online showing Papon kissing a minor female contestant of a reality singing show on which he was judge, Supreme Court lawyer Runa Bhuyan filed a sexual assault complaint against the singer. Following a media blitzkrieg, Papon shared a lengthy post where he argued, "to show affection for an 11 year old child who I have been mentoring for a while is not an alien concept for me…However this is not to say I haven't made a mistake… I am sorry for that." A day later, he announced that he was stepping down as judge and disappeared from social media.

When Ye Tishnagi, a song from the film III Smoking Barrels, a story set in the Northeast, released last month, observors said it was Papon's comeback from the doldrums. Speaking to a news website, the film's writer-director Sanjib Dey said, "We got Papon to sing the song because he is not just an extremely talented singer but also because he connects with the Northeast as much as the rest of the country. It was a great experience collaborating with him."

Papon sang Chaav Laga in the upcoming release Sui Dhaga
Papon sang Chaav Laga in the upcoming release Sui Dhaga

A talent manager from a leading record label insists that it's Papon who decided to lie low. "He is actually one of the smartest music directors around, that's why people like working with him. He understands indie and commercial needs and operates accordingly. He gives you what you want." A friend who has known him since his early days in Delhi agrees. "He sees it [the incident] as water under the bridge, and doesn't want to come across as a sob story."

But his 'comeback' may have in fact, happened earlier in June when he performed at a music festival back home in Assam, his first gig after the controversy broke. An organiser, who didn't wish to be identified, said that she saw a different person. "He came across as mellow. He was of course, excited about the performance. It was as if he felt that if he performed here and was accepted, people would forget what had happened."

A grab from the controversial video
A grab from the controversial video

The organiser team was prepared for the worst, and was expecting protests. "But a surprise lay in store. Fans from all over the Northeast turned up after travelling in buses and trains overnight. They had Papon tattoos and T-shirts on. The energy was immense and the show was fantastic. They were sentimental about seeing him perform after so long." Fan pages like Papon Army (7,590 followers) and Papon Universe (9,564 followers) actively supported the festival and pushed for attendance on their forums.

"So many of us from the industry couldn't believe he did it, although the video was before us and we had watched it repeatedly. He is one of the nicest people around, and sure, he may have made a mistake, but most of us feel he didn't intend to do it," said a live sound engineer, who has known Papon personally and toured with him. He says there was talk of the singer having lost a few film songs and tours right after the controversy. "If he did five gigs before, he may be doing one now."

A poster for Lager n Beer festival
A poster for Lager n Beer festival

But a popular young singer, who has had his fair share of hits last year, says that the industry doesn't care for ethics. "It's ruthless here. I have given some big hits in the last year, but the recognition hasn't been all that much. It's because I don't network. But Papon, that guy is influential. I have met six different people, all of whom claim he is their best friend. He has built some strong relationships, and whether you get work depends on it. It [the sexual assault case] may have dented his personal confidence, but, it has not affected the work he gets."

And that brings us to the age-old question — can you separate the artiste from the person? How many of us stopped watching Woody Allen films after his adopted daughter accused him of sexual exploitation, or dropped House of Cards when Kevin Spacey was accused by 15 men of sexual misconduct? A popular music director-singer says, "Papon is a genius. Of that, there is no doubt."

Toofani Hawa from Ishqeria, has been sung and composed by Papon
Toofani Hawa from Ishqeria, has been sung and composed by Papon

An accomplished music writer explains it in detail, "He's definitely a pioneer in the Indian folk-fusion music scene and one of the brightest stars to have consistently put out quality work in the field even after branching into Bollywood. His fame has dimmed after the incident but only slightly." Nirmika Singh, Executive Editor, Rolling Stone, said that if she was asked to be on a panel with, or moderate a discussion that involved Papon, she would turn it down.

"In India, we are so star-struck by celebrities that we ignore criminality. We worship anybody and everybody seen on a big stage, big screen or TV, and think they can do no wrong," says the singer-songwriter, who once said in an interview that she would love to write lyrics for Papon. "But I can't say that now. In music, the student-mentor relationship is considered sacred. If a mentor is found guilty of sexual harassment, or if there's compelling evidence that suggests criminality, he/she should be subjected to the harshest punishment by law and also boycotted from the fraternity. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened. And that crushes my faith in the music industry."

Tarsame Mittal, founder of TM Talent Management, the firm that organised the All About Music conference in Mumbai last month, told us, "it's only the media that's asking these questions". "Isn't it the case in court? Aren't you innocent until proven guilty? I have known Papon for long and like him, I am from Guwahati. The subject of discussion at the conference was non-filmy music. It was right up his alley, and honestly, we didn't even think about the controversy when we invited him." "Isn't it the case in court? Aren't you innocent until proven guilty? I have known Papon for long and like him, I am from Guwahati. The subject of discussion at the conference was non-filmy music. It was right up his alley, and honestly, we didn't even think about the controversy when we invited him."

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