The voice behind Delhi Belly’s I Hate You Like I Love You and the thought-provoking Rupaiya from Satyamev Jayate, singer-songwriter Sona Mohapatra was in town for some adda and indulgence. t2 caught up with her for a chat and a shoot.
What brings you to Calcutta?
Actually this is my consolation prize. I was supposed to go to Barcelona and that didn’t work out. This is also my birthday treat to myself after finishing Satyamev Jayate [she was the producer of the music project on the show]. I’ve always had a special connection with this city. I walked into Music World today and that itself is so surprising that you can still spot music stores in the heart of the city! But more than that, I loved the fact that more than 50 per cent of the music was in Bengali. I would love that for my home state (Odisha).
There’s also another connection — Gauhar Jaan, the first Indian artiste to cut a record, was at the peak of her fame and career here. She’s one of my inspirations. In fact, a book on her life My Name is Gauhar Jaan is what I got as a gift for Kallol (Datta).... And where else but the east for a good adda!
The Bedardi Raja track sung by you didn’t get as much airplay as the other Delhi Belly songs, but it still has a great fan following...
It’s so in-your-face. It’s so common these days to put a raunchy number and make it an item song with an item girl. Fortunately, our producer — I’m being uncool and giving credit where it’s actually due — Aamir Khan had the guts to say we don’t need an item girl, let Sona do it. I was in charge of the whole project. And I didn’t want to push myself. But when an Aamir Khan says something, you listen. The video got stuck in the censors and didn’t get released with the film and hence didn’t get as much airplay. But like every other thing in my life, it found its base later.
In the song, I was wearing a sari and playing the bass guitars and had a tight choti with a red flower in my hair. Even that is so unconventional! Everyone thinks you must look pretty and leave your hair open. Aamir said, don’t wear a regular blouse. Wear a three-quarter-sleeve blouse — he is that much into details (laughs)!
Considering Bedardi is so popular, why don’t we hear you more often in Bollywood?
I’m having too much fun to bother about cashing in. I’m in it for the long run. I do not know why Bollywood (music) directors don’t cast me, maybe you should ask them. But it’s also true ladkiyon ke liye gaana hi bahut kum banta hai. There’s just one item song for women singers and everyone wants to play it safe by casting a Shreya (Ghoshal) or a Sunidhi (Chauhan). There aren’t even that many duet songs anymore. So it’s not as if there are a lot of opportunities in playback singing. Personally, my biggest high hasn’t been Bedardi Raja but Rupaiya (from Satyamev Jayate).
How has it been working on Satyamev Jayate?
Rupaiya has gone viral and has had more than one-and-a-half million views since it’s been posted on YouTube. It’s about dowry. While producing this song, we realised that in small towns in northern and central India, women aren’t just bringing in dowry, they’re also supposed to be educated and bring in the bread.... Songs like Rupaiya fulfil me more. I’ve had to work bloody hard, what with singing and producing songs for Satyamev Jayate. The songs don’t have the regular frills and fancies. Just perhaps one guitar and a strong melody and honest lyrics. They’re like my babies, I can’t stop talking about them.
Singer, songwriter, performer — which is the most difficult?
We undervalue the performance angle. It’s not easy performing with a live band and sticking to a band. You have to make sure the sound is consistent. Then there are these so-called performers who lip-sync to recorded sound, have back-up dancers on stage and are undermining the live experience.... The most spectacular Sona is on stage. Not in recording, not on TV, but on stage.
What is life like with Ram Sampath (composer for Delhi Belly), who’s your husband as well as your partner at production firm OmGrown Music?
Life is a picnic! It truly is. Everyday I feel like a princess. But working 24x7 and living with your partner with whom you do everything can have its ups and downs. So sometimes it’s necessary to take breaks like this... where you’re away from each other.
Does criticism from him pinch more?
No, because if he doesn’t tell me, who will? It’s the same for him. So I am guessing if it pinches, it does so both ways.
And there’s your sister Pratichee (member of girl band Viva) too....
Pratichee and I have a different journey in music. She’s more of a pop singer. She had an incredible last year. She was detected with a 7kg malignant tumour in her abdomen. She took it very calmly. I will yell my head off to even take an injection. We couldn’t bear it. But then she was soon back to touring and working out.... She’s a tiny little frail thing. And she didn’t even flinch! I was so awed.
What’s your next project?
Right now, I want to go back to live shows, which I haven’t been doing for the past six months.
You have a strong bond with Calcutta designers Kallol Datta and Eina Ahluwalia. How did that happen?
I saw Kallol walking by at Lakme Fashion Week and I loved what he was wearing. I have this theory that every designer designs as per his body type. And I’m really fond of my food! I don’t believe in being reed-thin. I always say, ‘big belly, big voice’. So I looked him up. And I couldn’t believe that someone like him exists and I didn’t wear him! I used to think fashion wasn’t for people like us. We don’t celebrate individualism. But here were two designers who do! No wonder I ended up raiding all of (jewellery designer) Eina’s Wedding Vows collection. It’s so rare that someone has the balls to do a line with a thought, leave alone something ballsy like domestic violence. It excites that it comes with a thought. I don’t like people who say you can leave your mind behind and enjoy.
What is fashion for you?
In Bombay, I was considered peculiar. I refuse to squeeze myself into tight jeans and compete with small-butted, gym-toned starving women. I have a big one and I don’t mind showing it off. For my Aaja Ve video, I came up with this look with a friend. I used to wear shirts with rolled-up sleeves and harem pants. And if I wore this at events, the fashion fraternity would rip me apart. They’d say, ‘here’s Miss Mohapatra straight from the handicrafts mela’. I had a hearty laugh. I haven’t changed the way I dress but now there’s more acceptance. A couple of years ago, people seeing me in Kallol would say ‘you’re tall, you can pull it off’, and now the same people say ‘oh, why don’t you get Kallol in Mumbai’. It’s so amusing! To me dressing up is as much about expressing yourself as writing a song.
Bags or shoes: Both Favourite piece of jewellery: Earrings Smokey eyes or red lips: Smokey eyes Jimmy Choos or Kolhapuris: Ferragamo and Kolhapuris