Singer-songwriter Sona Mohapatra’s journey as a travelling concert artiste, through her highs and lows, was documented in the National Award-winning documentary Shut Up Sona. Directed by Deepti Gupta, Shut Up Sona followed the singer for more than three years, capturing the various obstacles that came her way as a female artist fighting for equal space in India. Ever since its completion, the documentary has been collecting accolades across various prestigious film festivals. Shut Up Sona will soon have its Australian Premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IFFM). It will also compete in the Best Documentary category in the festival.
In a chat with News18, Sona talked about the documentary’s journey from the inception to now, her collaboration with Deepti Gupta and what she is doing to improve the music scene in India. Talking about the IFFM premiere, Sona said, “I am quite elated, because while we had traveled all across Europe and won accolades in North America, Toronto and New York Doc Fest, till now we had not laid out in any of the Indian film festivals abroad. So in a sense, it is a start to that journey. We just won the Texas Indian Film Festival Best Documentary and immediately, this nomination at IFFM happened.”
Sona said that unlike a few recent film festivals which were held online, the documentaries premiering in IFFM will be screened on theatres. Shut Up Sona, she said, is a film that has brought out several emotions from the audience during previous theatre screenings. “In India people associate documentaries with a lot of intense and serious things. But this is a feature length documentary with a lot of fun and music in parts. While the west has had music stars who have had their documentaries, I think in a genre Shut Up Sona is a first in India. That makes me very proud,” she said.
For the singer, Shut Up Sona’s selection among record breaking entries at IFFM is a massive feat that she is proud of. She further said, “For the first time they have had more than 34 female filmmakers, who are part of the line-up. It is very interesting, because women are known to be pretty faces in the industry and filmmakers are few and far in between. I think those numbers are also shifting. And for me, that is also a big win. All in all, this is great news on the film festival front.”
The documentary captured a lot of highs and lows, controversies and praises in Sona’s life. The film also dug deep into her personal life, along with the one she shares with her husband, composer Ram Sampath. While she is a public figure, the level of exposure in Shut Up Sona was only possible because of the mutual respect and trust with director Deepti Gupta. Sona says that while she has always been comfortable in the spotlight and on the stage, it doesn’t mean that she was comfortable in showcasing all the aspects of her life to Deepti and the public.
“This happened only because Deepti is a very good friend of mine. Our journey together began when she was a cinematographer. I know for a fact that her journey was not a comfortable one, she was one of the few first female DOPs in our industry. I met her in a concert for the first time and insisted that she direct a music video of mine, and she was initially shocked. But we took a jump and made a video called Aaja Ve. Incidentally, it was her directorial debut, and it is also one of the best loved videos of ours. It was also the debut for Rajkummar Rao, Vijay Varma, Pittobash, some of the most interesting actors currently. We auditioned them in FTII, and some of the most interesting actors in the country, debuted in my music video. That video was the beginning of our journey and ten years later we ended up making Shut Up Sona, which is in a sense a parallel telling of her story.
“It was not always easy. Especially the parts where Deepti has captured Ram and I having conversations. To get into someone’s very intimate space, especially when two partners are not agreeing on something, it is a lot to be revealing to the outside world. It is not necessarily confrontational, but you are constantly navigating minefields. At the same time, you want to retain the respect and decency in the conversation, but it is just not easy to do so. I think Deepti, as a cinematographer too, and we didn’t have a camera crew following us around, captured this with a lot of sensitivity,” she further added.
Sona said that the film has several more layers than people presume. “Music, history, culture, travel, are of a lot of interest to me. This film is not an autobiography or hagiography, or a concert film, like many assume. I think it has several more layers. When you are producing your own documentary, it’s not cheap as you are travelling to 17-18 cities around the country. Many documentaries are shot in a city or a Mohalla. This film really traveled, it started by saying that it is a love letter to a country that is uncomfortable with my empowerment. It was meant to be a travelogue, and to showcase my love for music, my love for roots music, my inspirations Kabir, Meera and Aamir Khusro, even though the gender conflict is a key part of any navigation that a female artist does in India.”
Sona added that she and Deepti initially collaborated to work on a film called Lal Pari Mastaani, to showcase the life of a travelling concert artist. However, on the way there were many points of conflict, which became a central theme for Shut Up Sona.
In a tweet from last year, Sona had said that she had spent all her savings in Shut Up Sona. “I did invest a lot of money on the film, which very few artists do. But this kind of a film would have never been made. First of all, in India, people don’t have an understanding for documentaries. There are trust funds and all kinds of organisations to fund documentary storytelling abroad, but India doesn’t have that. It is always more difficult to do something for the first time. At the same time, the way the film has rewarded me, I can’t even put it into numbers. Very soon, it will be on an OTT platform for a country to see. I think it has been worth it and more.”
Sona says that she plans on making a lot of content, but her current focus is on music. “I definitely plan to make more films. I could even make a fiction film next, or a web-series. Who is to know? But immediately, I’m focusing whole-heartedly on setting up a music label and finding a way to create a very vital music scene, which is not limited to only film music. It is really disheartening to see in a country that is as big and diverse as India, doesn’t have a thriving music industry, which is not a subset of the film industry. I am also shooting for another project called Please Sing Sona, so let’s see where that goes,” she signed off.
The Indian Film Festival of Melbourne will be held from August 12-30, 2021.
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