Towards the end of Shut Up Sona, singer Sona Mohapatra drifts across a river in a boat, uncharacteristically quiet as sexist quotes from politicians populate the screen. The scene encapsulates the film’s view of Mohapatra: her existence as a female artist is diametrically opposed to a society that undermines women.
There are sweeping scenes of Mohapatra on stage in her signature red outfits, performing bhajans and qawwalis with modern arrangements. Her passion as a performer and her vocal chops are apparent. Somewhat confusingly, the film does not mention her Bollywood playback songs apart from a stray reference of Ambarsariya from Fukrey. It leans into Mohapatra as an indie musician putting a new spin on songs by spiritual figures like Mirabai and Amīr Khusrau.
The bulk of Shut Up Sona, directed by Deepti Gupta, shows how Mohapatra deals with the challenges of being a solo female artist. She calls out IIT Bombay’s college festival for never having had a female headliner in 30 years. She argues with members of the Sufi Brotherhood on TV after they file an FIR against her for disrespecting Sufi music by performing in Western clothes.
She rails against a music industry that is still a “boys club”. Mohapatra’s anger is justified but the film spends too much time on her coming up with social media campaigns and quippy responses to trolls. It doesn’t give us much background about her trajectory as a singer or her upbringing. Without this context, it’s hard to feel invested in the minutiae of her activism, especially when targeted at a religious group unlikely to change their beliefs based on her views of Sufism.
Mohapatra did deal with relevant issues that the film glosses over. Capturing the aftermath of Mohapatra calling out Vishal Dadlani for not inviting more female artists to perform at NH7 Weekender or outing Anu Malik in the #MeToo movement may have created a more complete portrayal of the Indian music industry’s sexism.
Gupta follows Mohapatra very closely, catching the funny remarks she makes under her breath and revealing the introspective person behind the firebrand. In shots of conversations between Mohapatra and her husband, composer Ram Sampath, Mohapatra asks Gupta for her opinion even as she’s behind the camera. It’s almost like Gupta knows her subject so well that she forgets that her audience may not have the same understanding.
Shut Up Sona is streaming on Zee5.