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On a New High

Sona Mohapatra is on a roll. After hogging the limelight for her soulful rendition of Mujhe Kya Bechega Rupaiya on television talk show Satyamev Jayate, the versatile singer is now back in news for her song Jiya Lage Na from the forthcoming Aamir Khan-starrer Talaash.

She has been receiving umpteen calls and messages, flooding her with compliments and appreciation for the “unusual” track that attempts to bring new sounds into mainstream Bollywood music. This electro-folk fusion is extra special for Sona because she recorded it in “almost one take within 10 minutes”.

“This style of singing comes easily to me. The song is a perfect representation of me as an artiste. It attempts to bridge the ancient and the contemporary, in this case the thumri (light classical) and the urban soundscape of drum and bass electronica. It is a raag-based bandish at the core. It’s rare to hear such compositions in Hindi films,” she says.

This is not the first time that Sona had worked with Aamir Khan. She had lent her voice earlier for his home production Delhi Belly, where she sang Bedardi Raja. “Aamir Khan is possibly the best producer one can hope to work with in this country and by a country mile. He’s willing to dirty his hands, back unusual projects and in the end goes all the way to ensure that what you painstakingly create, reaches out to the audience,” she says.

After Bedardi Raja, the trend-breaking Satyamev Jayate came Sona’s way, which was an unusual platform for her to perform and present her music. “I was involved in Satyamev Jayate not just as an artiste-performer, but the executive producer. It was more than a full-time occupation and took over my life totally. Multiple lyricists, unusual contexts for song-writing, brainstorming sessions with Ram Sampath, the composer and music producer, show directors Satyajeet, Swati and last but not the least the super-committed Aamir Khan. The research for the show and schedules were emotionally and physically draining, but in the end the whole journey was a rewarding one,” she reminisces about the show, which went off air in July-end this year.

Sona says the overwhelming response to Mujhe Kya Bechega Rupaiya has reaffirmed her faith in the strength of music to reach out and inspire change. “When a song like that reaches out to millions and I get mails from people across the globe about how the song gives them the strength and energy to make a change, nothing can be more fulfilling for an artiste,” she adds.

The Mumbai-based singer, along with Ram Sampath, has also been planning a project titled Odiya Blues. The album, she says, is close to her heart as it celebrates her roots. “I can’t give a specific deadline (for completion of the project) since it is self-funded. It celebrates my roots in the east and the rich musical tradition of Odisha, in particular. It’s a work in progress and I am surely going to get the songs in place soon,” she says.

Talking about roots, during the making of her debut album ‘Sona’, she had composed a song Aae Jhula Re, which was inspired the Sambalpuri folk song Jai Phula Re.

Odisha has a serious legacy of amazing classical and folk music, something that Sona would “love to re-invent and present from a modern perspective” keeping intact its soul and spirit.

“(But) I find the overt aping of Bollywood in the Odia film industry just as disturbing as I find people aping the West to feel hep-modern in the Mumbai film industry. Finding a modern voice and musical expression, that fits in our times and is original and true to our roots is not easy, but is surely worth striving towards,” she says.

But at the moment, Sona is happy to be embracing her “first love” – the stage. Known to bring the crowd to its feet with her electrifying performances, she feels she was “born to perform before a live audience”. “After the break for Satyamev Jayate, I am back. Being on the road also satisfies the wanderlust in me. I’m a nomad at core and love being in different bubbles of culture. I have vowed to stay back for at least two days in any new place to explore the food and the streets after a gig, instead of running back the next day like most others do,” she signs off.

Why don’t we hear you more often in Bollywood?

Not many female songs are created in this definite ‘boys’ club’ and the few that are, get distributed amongst the well-deserving other ladies who have professional, long term or closer associations with these ‘boy clubs’.

Does the music audience in India need to evolve in terms of sensibilities?

Our audiences are quite mature and know how to celebrate a good melody when they hear one. Problem is with the content creators. Can’t blame the poor audience, which gets subjected to the same old factory line productions and concoctions.

We have so many male composers in Bollywood but why is the number low as far as women music composers are concerned?

Till about 70-80 years ago, women didn’t have any legitimate profession or means of earning their livelihood. The only way they could earn was by being a singer/dancer in a kotha. Women musicians, maestros in their own right such as Gauhar Jaan, Rasoolan Bai didn’t ever get the darja (status) of an ustaad or pandit and couldn’t officially tutor students or be seen as gurus because of their gender! Seventy years is a very short period of time when you look at the timeline of history at large. Things will change as women get freer in their own heads to start with and society needs to facilitate their ‘voice’ and ‘expression’.

Can we expect you to sing for the Odia film industry anytime soon?

I’d love to if the right opportunity came along. Recently, I sang for a couple of Tamil films. But I didn’t enjoy the experience since the songs were composed in a key that I was not so comfortable in.

You graduated in engineering, then did an MBA and also worked as a brand manager. So, how did music happen?

My academic interests always ran alongside my pursuit of music. I always knew that eventually I’d be on stage singing. My degrees and experience in the corporate world might have made my road to professional music longer but also equipped me better in many ways. I do run a music production house, apart from singing.

Aveek Bhowmik
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