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‘I have a lot on my plate’

Megha Pai (megha@khaleejtimes.com) / 19 April 2012

SHE WAS RAISED in Maryland but it was in Mumbai that she found her passion and home. American-born Indian actor, Monica Dogra made her Bollywood debut with Dhobi Ghat in 2011 playing the lead role opposite Aamir Khan.

While her performance as an actor gathered her appreciation from fans and critics alike, many were unaware of Monica’s musical credentials. She is one half of the Mumbai-based electro rock duo Shaa’ir and Func (S+F). In 2005, she formed the group along with the guitarist Randolph Correia. Apart from making a guest appearance in the film Rock On, Monica also sang Dooriyan Bhi Hai Zaroori with Vishal Dadlani in Imran Khan-Deepika Padukone starrer Break Ke Baad. She has also walked the ramp for several big names on occasion.     When she is not touring with S+F, she is busy hosting The Dewarists, a popular musical documentary show on Star World India. And now she is in Dubai to play at the Chill Out Festival to be held this weekend. City Times catches up with the talented multi-tasker ahead of her performance:

We hear you needed quite a bit of persuasion to audition for Dhobi Ghat. Why were you so reluctant?

I didn’t know what kind of film Dhobi Ghat was. If I had known that it was a sensitive, artistic and meaningful script, I would have been more receptive. Also, at that point in time, I was touring heavily with Shaa’ir + func. I never had dreams of becoming a Bollywood star. I still consider stardom as a circumstance; it was never the goal — though, I do admit, I feel very lucky and grateful that people actually give attention to my work. 

Has the success of the movie changed your reluctance to be in Bollywood?

In my head, I don’t draw lines around Bollywood/Hollywood/indie/mainstream. I have a strong interest in the power of art and expression - communication - and progress. I would like to do progressive work that moves people positively. I’m willing and open to include projects along those lines as long as I have the time, energy, and interest!

How was it to work alongside Aamir Khan?

It was an honour to be in Aamir’s company and at times extremely intimidating. I tried to learn as much as I could while I shared screen space with him. I feel I had so much to learn.

After debuting with Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao you could have had your pick of big-budget, high-profile banners. Yet you chose to work with a relatively new and unknown team in Fireflies after a break of two years. Why is that?

I’m not sure really. I was just waiting for a project that interested me and felt right. Honestly, Fireflies is one of the most exciting things in my life right now. It is Sabal Sheikhawat’s directorial debut. It will be released later this year by The Big Picture Company. I am acting alongside Arjun Mathur, and the film also features Shivani Ghai and Rahul Khanna.

What’s next for you?

I’m also shooting Bejoy Nambiar’s next feature film in a few months opposite Neil Nitin Mukesh. I’ve confirmed two more feature films this year. I’m also working on my fourth record with S+F while balancing touring. I have a lot on my plate, but all of the work I’m doing is work that makes me feel like I’m growing leaps and bounds as an artist. I just want to always feel good on every level of my being, that the work I’m doing is good...plain and simple.

Are you excited about performing in Dubai?

Dubai is full of innovative energy. I’m really excited to return to the city and share S+F’s new material. Our sound has grown so much. I think the Dubai Chill Out Festival is going to be a great gathering of creative forces. I really hope to meet De La Soul. 

Did you always know you wanted to be a singer?

I started singing at home with my mum, who is a trained Hindustani classical singer. Her whole family is full of poets, musicians, and people on spiritual paths. In middle school, I competed in competitions, and joined every choir I had time to be a part of. By the time I was in high school it was clear that music, dance, and drama - and the many ways those elements collide - would be my lifelong passion.

How did Shaa’ir + Func happen?

I was visiting Mumbai in 2005 for the first time in my life. I met Randolph at a house party where nearly 20 musicians were jamming at 3am. He walked in with friends from the UK who we have in common, The Shiva Sound System. I was free-styling, and Randolph was improvising on the guitar. We felt each other musically before we even had a conversation.

What are your musical influences?

For me, music is a kind of divinity — it’s any sound, any story that just makes your whole body ripple with recognition. The best songs are the ones that make you feel like you’ve got a friend. For me, any genre can do that. Growing up, I listened to a lot of Ani DiFranco for her raw, unabashed storytelling. My choir teachers influenced me a lot as well. They supported me and believed in me at a really difficult time in my life.

The kind of music you make is very niche. Do you find it difficult to make your presence felt in the mainstream?

I don’t consider S+F’s music niche at all actually.  Every time we play a show, I get even more vindication on that fact. Just a week ago, we played a show in Kasauli (the hills in northern India), and a crowd whose demographic consisted of three-year-olds to 70-year-olds were all sweating, dancing, and smiling in pure connection with our music. I think you make a choice at some point in your life, and you probably have to keep making the same choice at various stages - to take the path that many people take, or do what is good for you, make up your own rules, and risk having people not understand. I usually have picked the latter but eventually, everything comes into sync, and it’s such a beautiful feeling. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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