The outspoken Bollywood singer tells City Times about her new song, favouritism and how Sushant Singh Rajput's death opened up a can of worms
Bollywood singer-songwriter Sona Mohapatra is one of the most outspoken women in the Indian music industry today. She's never afraid to raise her voice on issues that concern women, be it gender-bias, nepotism or sexual harassment. The singer now tackles a dilemma faced by working women in her new song Raat Ke Musaafir.
The song highlights the struggles of working women, especially those who work nights. "I wouldn't call this a song about women's struggles, but it's more a story about their triumph. It's about the celebration of two women with a belly full of dreams, their sweet victory of camaraderie and sisterhood," the singer told City Times. The music video of the song was released to coincide with the Indian Independence Day and can be viewed on the Ultra Bollywood YouTube channel.
"Raat Ke Musaafir immediately struck a chord with me. The narrative, both visually, and in the song is about women's right to feel safe in public spaces, it's about them being able to dream freely and make them come true," she stated.
Mohapatra believes that she was chosen to deliver this track because she has always stood for justice and her connect with the youth. "I have consistently stood for justice, fairness and my songs like Mujhey Kya Bechega Rupaiya, Bekhauff Aazad from Satyamev Jayate and my performances that celebrate the life and times of rebel rock stars in history, have been a huge connect with the youth who care about change. That's the reason director-songwriter Ajay Govind thought I would be the best fit to render this track."
Mohapatra added, "A single song cannot change mindsets, but each brick laid out for change plays an important role. The world is at a flashpoint when it comes to such issues and that makes me feel proud. This also means that the current generation is listening and having conversations (about such issues). They are much more balanced on matters of gender."
With this track, the singer aims to break barriers in the Indian music scene. The rock ballad is composed by Nitin Krishna Menon and through it, she wants to send out a message that rock music is not an all-male bastion. "Such songs are unconventional in India because a rockstar status has mostly been reserved for men. But subconsciously, this track breaks barriers. I enjoyed singing it because it tells a story without patronising anyone. Women have been (traditionally) trained to speak softly in our culture. They are expected to sing like a high-pitched bird in a sweet voice and be a damsel in distress - like a 'bird caught in the bushes' for men to rescue metaphorically. This is 2020, those days are long over," said the singer.
On the Anu Malik encounter
Mohapatra was the first to call out Anu Malik during India's #MeToo movement. The composer was accused of sexual misconduct and was dropped as the judge of a singing reality show after Mohapatra went on an all-out campaign. The win was seen as a 'symbolic victory' for women who have faced sexual harassment.
"I take pride in the fact that I have been a consistent and loud voice in the gender discourse in India. I fought and won one of the only victories in India's #MeToo movement, ousting Anu Malik from his seat in Indian Idol (TV reality show) after a sustained campaign. I am seeing many positives in recent years concerning women's rights and them finding their voices in India."
On Sushant Singh Rajput's case
As for Sushant Singh Rajput's death case, the singer says it has triggered something deeply painful in Indian society. But she does not like the way some media channels have been projecting the case.
"It feels like the death of meritocracy at the hands of a nepotistic, elitist setup. It (Sushant Singh Rajput's death) has opened up a can of worms, but it has also created an opportunity for the whole country to self reflect. Audiences are part and parcel of this problem, so is the media. I hope everyone learns at the 'altar' of this tragic occurrence. Apart from this, there are far too many unanswered questions looming over the case for people to let go. Nonetheless, the vulgarity with which some of the media channels have gone about tracking the case is distasteful, to say the least. The public tracking of call records of his girlfriend and the witch hunt was too disturbing."
Recently the singer made a strong remark about favouritism and how hardworking professionals with great track records are hired only if they are willing to 'toe the line', 'bow and scrape' in front of Bollywood families. But she has found a way to beat the system.
"The Indian music industry is merely an extension of the film industry and hence places too much emphasis on film music and mirrors the systemic problems of the film industry. This has created a chronic lack of variety, quality and cultural influence while crushing any chance that real upcoming talent has considering a handful call the shots. Also, the gender disparity itself is telling, there are no more than eight odd songs in female voices for every 100 released in the mainstream. This, from the industry that spawned titans like Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. While the world has progressed, our industry has regressed in that sense. The fact that we don't have a real music industry in a country as big as ours but a mere subset of the film industry should bother all of us, even the government. So yes, it's not very different as it's all clique based. The bigger issue that has to be addressed is not nepotism - that parents prop up kids is universal culture, albeit sad."
However, Mohapatra believes there are exceptions to every rule. "The key is to find allies who share your values and belief systems. The music scene has been terrible in the last few years, but that hasn't stopped me (from working). I've continued to put out music on my label. I've also had the biggest hits on Coke Studio India (TV show) and found many more avenues to express myself as an artist. I also produced a docu-drama musical titled, Shut Up Sona. I am happy with the quality work I've done in shows like Satyamev Jayate or songs like Ambarsariya, Jiya Lage Na, Naina and Bedardi Raja which were tailor-made for me not only as a vocalist but also as a personality."
"I also get to tour extensively with my band and perform gigs for loving crowds. My journey has been uphill since I have an opinion on matters and don't shy away from sharing them, and that has been hugely rewarding. Success on your own terms means the most to me. I want to create shows that reinforce the belief that the world is ours for the taking if we are willing to work hard and not wait for others to offer us opportunities," she said.