Why zip it?
The director and star of Shut Up Sona, Deepti Gupta and Sona Mohapatra discuss why the singer's gender equality talk is putting them on the right side of history
Trolls who saw the title, Shut Up Sona, on my Instagram feed, said, 'Now, maybe, like it says in your bio, you should shut up'. I told them, thanks for promoting my movie."
Sona Mohapatra, 43, singer and vociferous voice in India's #MeToo movement, is having chai with friend Deepti Gupta. Gupta is also director and cinematographer of Shut Up Sona, a film that premièred at the MAMI film festival last month. The documentary, which follows her on concert tours, across Vrindavan, on a visit to Nizamuddin dargah in Delhi, and captures moments with musician husband Ram Sampath, has received favourable reviews. Mohapatra says, ever since the screening, the comment thread's theme has changed to, don't shut up.
It's almost every day that she is trolled. And while the liberals might agree with portions of what she argues for, there is the occasional eye roll because, Mohapatra is at it again!
Veteran composer-singer Anu Malik has been on her watch list ever since news emerged of women accusing him of inappropriate behaviour on the sets of a music reality show he has been judging for years. While the channel got him to step down for the last leg of the 2018 season, his reinstatement this year saw her write an open letter to him that went viral. She had an FIR filed against her for mispronouncing words in an Odia bhajan, and was pulled by a Sufi foundation for dressing inappropriately when she rendered a Sufi track.
To Mohapatra, saying it like it is, isn't new. She says she was outspoken about equality as a child, too. That her mother was chided for having three daughters has stayed with her. "I never quite understood why she was required to put out my father's underwear, with all his clothes, every morning when he got ready. In college, she speaks of an election where women weren't allowed to stand. "There was obscene graffiti featuring me everywhere, and condoms thrown at me [because I spoke up]."
For Gupta, the decision to film Mohapatra's activism over 300 hours of footage, was an easy one. "Since the nucleus of the film is her music, for me, it was about sticking to it, and drawing from what inspires me about her. Through her music, she speaks of what she believes in. Whatever she discusses, on social media too, has a connect to her music. Her music is both, art and protest."
The 84-minute film is well stitched and offers the viewer a few mythology lessons along the way as it speaks of the legend of Krishna and Meera. It touches on gender equality gently, when one of the qawwals at Delhi's Nizamuddin dargah admits he wouldn't want his daughter and sister to sing, but ends up humming with Mohapatra. "I went to Nizamuddin for the first time. I was nervous, but the custodians of the dargah were most gracious. There was lots to learn from them. But they also told me I can't go inside and sing. Not all patriarchs are evil people. These are inherited ideas, deeply rooted and carried forward as tradition," she reasons. Gupta says they encountered the unexpected. "We discovered that Meera wasn't a white-robe wearing woman but a protest poet. There is a moment in the film where Sona sits on a river bed talking of how Krishna could be responsible for the many young men of today thinking it's all right to tease women."
The film debates her approach, with scenes where Sampath suggests that sometimes, she must back down. To this, she says, "I never do things with so much strategy".
Mohapatra thinks she has reached a place of comfort where she can declare that Sampath is lucky to have her, and she, him. "He doesn't bear with me. But there are moments when he asks where this is heading, from one fight to another. He is worried that I am wearing myself thin, and that it will all transfer to the family. But he withstands it."
For now, all she's thinking about is taking the film to anyone who will watch it. And she's hopeful that the wheel of change will turn. "People can see [the truth] now. Everyone who is pretending to be woke, their truth will be out. We are on the cusp of something, and when change will come, we will be on the right side of history."
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