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Shut Up Sona review: Unsettling yet inspiring journey of a female artiste trying to effect change

Release Date: 01 Jul 2022 / 01hr 25min

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Roushni Sarkar

Directed and shot by Deepti Gupta, Shut Up Sona is a comprehensive response to all the bullies and silent accomplices who have tried to choke the radical voice of singer Sona Mohapatra.

“Artistes who go beyond just entertainment are my kind of artistes — who want to effect a change, who want to leave behind a better place than before they started,” says Sona Mohapatra before she begins a concert with a song by the 13th century Sufi poet and musician Amir Khusro.

Mohapatra doesn’t merely say these words to warm the audience up for her fiery performance. The words resonate throughout Deepti Gupta’s award-winning documentary Shut Up Sona, which follows the singer relentlessly fighting for equal space for women against the blatant misogyny in the entertainment industry.

As the documentary reveals how the singer gets bullied and trolled on social media for calling out those hosting the biggest concerts in the country, including NH7 Weekender, for the obvious gender disparity in their performer line-ups and IIT Bombay's festival Mood Indigo for asking her to get her music-director spouse Ram Sampath to perform with her, the realization of the extent to which female artistes have been silenced in the male-dominated industry hits home.

There is no dearth of female singers in India, but when Mohapatra gets next to no backing from her fellow artistes on receiving a threatening notice from the Madariya Sufi Foundation for allegedly projecting obscenity in the visuals of the Sufi song 'Tori Surat', part of her Lal Pari Mastani project, it becomes evident that most are intent on securing their positions by playing it safe.

However, that is not an option for Mohapatra, who advocates free expression by both men and women at the beginning of her performances and puts in her best effort to enlighten her audiences with her takeaways from mystic poets, including Meera Bai, Sant Kabir and Amir Khusro.

We see through Deepti Gupta’s lens that performing a song by Meera Bai or Amir Khusro is a deeply introspective process for Mohapatra. She travels to the birthplace of Meera Bai and also visits Khusro’s tomb in the Nizamuddin dargah in Delhi to immerse herself in the essence of both mystic poets’ vision of love beyond worldly attachments. But fanatics only see her attire, not the effort, and find it threatening to their beliefs.

While Mohapatra refuses to countenance any derogatory comment on her agency to express herself, she also reflects deeply on how Meera Bai, too, has been confined to a vulnerable and domesticated identity by the upholders of patriarchy. Gupta’s camera follows her as she gets into candid conversation with the qawwals at the Nizamuddin dargah about women performing in public and the misinterpretation of Sufism.

In the intimate moments of the documentary, Mohapatra finds refuge in talking to herself while continuously backing her undaunted spirit. The performer often shuts up journalists by calling herself the “daughter of Chandi” at press meets. At home, her sensitive side reveals how she gets repeatedly pushed to react with all guns blazing because she knows she cannot allow a single opportunity to victimize her. Though she knows her husband will back her decisions anyway, she acknowledges that even he. sometimes. finds her to be inviting nuisance.

When Mohapatra speaks for more female representation in the entertainment industry, she often gets pathetic reactions like 'where are the female artistes?' The ‘Ambarsariya’ singer, whose intentions are as clear as her singing notes, fails to generate support when she takes the initiative to start a trend on social media, asking female performers to claim their presence.

But the documentary does its job meticulously, exposing leading music directors who are tagged “liberal” and 'supporter of women’s rights' with accounts of Mohapatra’s experiences and proof of their double standards in the visual collage thoughtfully edited by Arjun Gourisaria.

Shut Up Sona has an interesting selection of songs by Mohapatra that not only work as triggerng forces for the authoritarian voices trying to police her creativity and mind, but also speak of her identity beyond the gender binary, a voice that promotes harmony, free expression and 'sisterhood'.

Gupta’s camerawork and Gourisaria’s editing merge Mohapatra’s personal battles with the fight she puts up in the public domain to ensure her recognition as well as that of the community of female artistes. The documentary, unsettling and inspiring at the same time, makes it evident that there is a long a way to go before the fight for equality is won. Indeed, the first step is to get men and women to recognize the need for the fight.

Shut Up Sona is now streaming on Zee5.


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