Interview: Sona Mohapatra on being a hustler and making it to the Times Square Billboard

Sona Mohapatra talks about being on the Times Square Billboard in New York for demanding equal representation for women in music  

Heena Khandelwal Published :  30th July 2021 07:00 AM   |   Published :   |  30th July 2021 07:00 AM

Sona Mohapatra features on the Times Square Billboard in New York

Last week saw indie artist Sona Mohapatra making her debut appearance on the Times Square Billboard in New York. She was chosen as a part of the Spotify ‘Equal’ global campaign, leading the Indian leg for equal representation for women in music. “I received the news of my photo going up there in the middle of the night and it was a surreal feeling because Times Square is a pop-culture milestone for artistes around the world,” says the Ambarsariya-singer who sees it as a win for the indie artist community.

With a strong voice and an even stronger identity, Sona first burst onto the scene with Bedardi Raja, which she sang for the 2011 film Delhi Belly. Over the years, she sang popular tracks like Ambarsariya (Fukrey), Jiya Laage Na (Talaash) and Re Bawree (Taish) and simultaneously expanded her profile from a singer to singer-producer with Omgrown Music, which she co-founded with her husband and long-time collaborator, Ram Sampath. Under this label, she produced and sang songs like Rupaiya, Ghar Yaad Aata Hai Mujhe, Aise Na They and Ek Din.

While Aise Na They, released last month and distributed by Paris-based music distribution and marketing service Believe, is being featured on the ‘EQUAL’ playlist for the entire month, Ek Din is her tribute to the city of New York.

A still from Aise Na They featuring Sona Mohapatra

Featuring pop-rock blended with ethereal flutes and tingling mandolins, Aise Na They is a mature love song revolving around a relationship that has lost its fizz. It was composed by her husband Ram Sampath with lyrics penned by Amitabh Bhattacharya. “I spent close to 25 days by myself near the Himachal-Sikkim border and shot the video myself. I would get ready, set my monopod out and start shooting,” shares Sona who also did her own makeup and styling, something that’s also common with the recently released Ek Din set to an electronic night soundscape.

Shot years ago by her friend and director of the National Award-winning documentary Shut Up Sona, Deepti Gupta, Ek Din song was shot in New York during Halloween. “Deepti was in New York for a recce and she loved the imagery there so much that she called asking me to come over. We created the song in two days. While Ram was here completing the song, Deepti and I were roaming around doing jugaad to shoot. I would go to stores like Sephora to do my touch-up, it was crazy. We shot it years ago but never released it and this seemed to be the right time to pay my tribute to the city where it was shot and where I now have a billboard,” she adds.

Also read | 'If you care for music, please pay the musicians': Sona Mohapatra

For a better world

A champion of women’s rights, Sona has always demanded an equal and fair world for herself and for other women — be it pointing out the gender imbalance in the mainstream music industry or at music festivals. “For me, to be able to bring change, in whichever small way is a much bigger legacy to leave behind rather than having 100 hit songs. It is not like I don’t cherish a hit song or an award, but what I cherish the most is expanding the ecosystem in some way and the pride of the music community. When I entered (music industry), women were always asked to go with dancers and do a glamorous act or look like a goddess and sing from a corner. I didn’t want to do either. We should be seen for the many colours and hues that we have as female artistes. So, I insisted on performing live with a band and refused to wear tight-fitting shiny clothes and be like any generic pop star. I wore a sari, tied my hair into a braid and added flowers for Bedardi Raja because it was an ode to a Kothewala song,” shares Sona who has successfully created a distinct style for herself over the years. 

Even on the billboard, one can see her sporting a bindi and a khadi-blockprint jumpsuit. “It was a conscious choice to have my bindi intact. I am wearing a jacket created by James Ferreira from a handwoven Gujjar shawl, which is integral to this artisan community. My jumpsuit has a certain block print design which is from South India. I am representing my culture. I am not a folk artiste living in a village, I am an urban artiste but I love my Indian identity and I think I am flaunting it there.”

‘Aise Na They’ and ‘Ek Din’ are streaming on Spotify and YouTube.
Twitter/Instagram: @heenakhandlwal