Her documentary delineates her relentless fight for gender equality; the singer has on multiple occasions, boldly called out sexism in the entertainment industry.
Singer, Live Performer, and Music Producer Sona Mohapatra is more than just a musical powerhouse. She is also a dissenting voice that courageously speaks out against sexism, patriarchy, gender policing, and inequality without any fear of consequences. The cost of being this outspoken is not negligible as ‘Shut Up Sona,’ a riveting documentary based on her live shows. Available now on Zee5, the documentary directed by cinematographer Deepti Gupta depicts how Sona is constantly judged, mocked, and policed for her opinions, her music, and even her clothes. Undeterred, she continues to fight for equal space in an industry where women are expected to be submissive and not ask for more than what they are given.
Here are some of the instances where Sona refused to take discrimination and disrespect in her stride.
When Sona spoke up during the #MeToo movement
In 2018, when the #MeToo Movement had shaken the Indian entertainment industry in the wake of multiple accusations, Sona Mohapatra openly called out powerful men like Anu Malik and Kailash Kher for their gender insensitivity and entitlement. She recalled how Malik referred to her as ‘maal’ in front of her spouse, Ram Sampath, without knowing that the two were married. He would also call her at odd hours and send strange messages. The fact that after being dropped from Indian Idol, Malik was welcomed back to the show in 2021 says a lot about how indulgent the industry is towards bad behavior. Sona also recalled without mincing words how Kailesh Kher had inappropriately touched her during a work meeting and then tried to get over-familiar during a concert. The fallout from this was that a few of Sona’s shows were canceled and even though her outspokenness has often impacted her career, she continues to speak her mind.
The IIT-Bombay Mood Indigo controversy
In 2016, Sona wrote an open letter confronting the organisers of Mood Indigo — IIT-Bombay’s inter-collegiate festival — for being ‘sexist’. She pointed out that Mood-I, one of the most prestigious fests in India, has over successive years, failed to include female artists in its line-up of performers. She wrote, “All the sponsorship, hype, marketing & branding of the world will not cover up the fact that you are a training ground for the worst kind of ‘boys clubs’ that create an imbalance in the world.” She also stated that the women artists not only are paid less remuneration but are usually not able to headline the fest and have to perform under the ‘umbrella’ of a male performer. Sona shared that the institute had invited her to perform at the fest with a caveat that a male performer would accompany her. She also said that other so-called ‘premier’ fests like NH7 Weekender are following suit. Interestingly, every time Sona takes on patriarchy, she is trolled viciously online but as always, she takes the negativity in her stride and counters them with statements like, “You don’t scare me. I know my numbers & operate on facts, not feelings”.
The Madariya Sufi Foundation clash
As a liberal and secular Indian, Sona has frequently taken on bigotry but is often targeted by fundamentalists on both sides. In 2018, Sona took to Twitter and alerted the Mumbai police about how the Madariya Sufi Foundation was threatening her and asking her to remove her song ‘Tori Surat’ from all online channels because it was supposedly vulgar and could incite communal tension. The song was based on lyrics written by 13th-century poet Amir Khusrau. Sona is no stranger to Sufi poetry and has frequently incorporated it in her music. For instance, her song ‘Tere Ishq Nachaya’ in her debut album ‘Sona’ was inspired by Bulleh Shah’s verses. In response to the threats, she posted the video on her Twitter handle and wrote, “If this offends you, then please go live in your pre-historic cave.” Ironically, in the documentary ‘Shut Up Sona’, she also shared how she was once asked to not sing Meera’s poetry in ‘inappropriate’ clothes.
Loud and proud in a ripped jeans
When the former Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, Tirath Singh Rawat commented that women wearing ripped jeans were setting a bad example for children and could pave the way for societal breakdown, Sona joined the wave of dissent against the comment by proudly posting a picture in a ripped jeans. She tweeted that she does not wear jeans owing to the humidity and heat in Mumbai but is happy to sport ripped jeans with her knees showing. She also used the hashtag, “#GirlsWhoWearRippedJeans” and didn’t need anyone’s permission in #India. In the same tweet, she also reminded the trolls that India was a land of the glorious temples of Khajuraho.
Taking on sexist power structures
Sona is not one to take sexist comments lying down and often takes on the biggest names in the industry with raw courage. For instance, she took on superstar Salman Khan on more than one occasion and slammed him when he compared himself to a “raped” woman after completing the shoot of ‘Sultan’. He also referred to him as a “poster child of toxic masculinity” for mocking Priyanka Chopra after she dropped out of his project, ‘Bharat’ to get married. “Unless we call out such serial bad behavior, nothing changes, #India,” Sona tweeted and also reminded his fans who were posting crude comments about Priyanka’s age difference with her partner Nick that Salman was over 20 years older than Priyanka.