“Shut Up Sona” is a documentary on Indian singer Sona Mohapatra and the directorial debut of Deepti Gupta. The film was released in 2019 and garnered acclaim at various festivals. However, it is only this week that it is seeing its streaming release on Zee5. Director Deepti Gupta follows Mohapatra and captures the latter’s various moments during the time she was particularly muddled in unwarranted controversies. While doing so, she also highlights the various faces of patriarchy.
Mohapatra faces the punches of patriarchy that come from various sources. The obvious, religious text-influenced, downright misogyny is always easy to spot. Mohapatra and Gupta also concentrated on the subtle and oft-unrecognized patriarchy that comes from structural imbalance. Hidden from plain sight, these quips and barbs do not always contain malice within. However, “Shut Up Sona” tries to address how we, men, remain oblivious to the existence of certain privileges we enjoy, even if we genuinely, with good intentions, proclaim to denounce patriarchy.
The documentary starts with Mohapatra not getting a call from a music festival organized by one of the prestigious colleges of India, IIT Bombay. Mohapatra’s husband, Ram Sampath, is also a renowned musician who has composed songs for various mainstream movies. Mohapatra’s offer to be the festival headliner comes with a condition from IIT Bombay. She needs to bring her husband and make the performance a dual act instead of going solo.
Mohapatra rightfully calls out the disrespectful disregard. In a broader picture, it also paints the societal outlook, especially that of the Indian subcontinent, where a woman always gets her identity tied up with the man in her life. Be that her father or her husband. The documentary also captures the moment Mohapatra filed a criminal case against her for insulting her religious sentiments. Something that has become quite common these days.
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A documentarian always tries to infuse an accurate reflection of the time that the documentary is set in. Deepti Gupta in “Shut Up Sona” perfectly achieves that when it comes to India in the last couple of years. She achieves to do that because Sona does not shut up per se. Mohapatra’s unwavering attitude toward speaking her mind landed her in plenty of trouble. And each one of them highlights the abysmal times we are in.
One of the troubles Mohapatra faces is the fragile sentiments of her fellow countrymen being hurt. It could be her dress, it could be her demeanor, and it could be anything that someone might not agree with. The result would be online trolling at best, death threats, and police FIRs at worst. Gupta highlights the absurd intolerance of the country, along with the personal emotional turmoil Mohapatra went through during this period.
The balance between the personal arc of the narrative and the championing of the cause is maintained quite well. “Shut Up Sona” never lets go of Sona, even when it tries to paint a bigger picture. The human element of a singer trying to fit into her dream job, despite all the hindrances, is never out of scope in the film. The toll of every controversy on her life, career, and relationship with her husband Ram Sampath is visible on Mohapatra’s face. Sampath also wants her not to be that outspoken out of concern and fear for her safety. But, again, that is also not something he should try to control, even with good intentions.
Gupta perfectly highlighted the well-intended hard-to-recognize patriarchy with a perfect Tennis clip in the film. The clip was from a mixed doubles match where the male players (Jack Sock and Roger Federer) started rallying among themselves. Hence, the female players (Belinda Bencic and Colleen Vandeweghe) excused themselves from the game. It was actually done as a joke in the match. But it fits perfectly in the narrative both Gupta and Mohapatra tried to portray. Even without any ill-will, certain gender inequalities need to be recognized. Recognized and then addressed. Till that time, the rebels must not shut up.