Pride Month has ended but variegated conversations around gender constructs have started across the country with renewed vigour. Artists, celebrities and social influencers are carrying the message forward. Sona Mohapatra and Sushant Divgikar, two popular artists, come together to tell India, 'Don't Shut Up!'Obviously they are alluding to the pronouncements of issues and concerns pertaining to the LGBTQ fraternity and campaigning for the freedom of expression. The two artistes also discuss how they deal with online hate.
In a recent conversation about Pride Month and inclusivity, singer, producer, and composer Sona Mohapatra says that people who organise music festivals need to start becoming more inclusive. She along with her close friend, Sushant Divgikar engaged in an interesting conversation on Sona's InstaLive about the need for inclusivity, allyship, diversity and open dialogue. They concluded that 'Change is coming whether one likes it or not'.
Sona has always been a strong ally of the community. The discussion with Sushant encompassed everything from how Indian media represents the LGBTQ community to how inclusivity must go beyond tokenism.
Interestingly although these two come from different backgrounds they have the same open-hearted and broadminded worldview. In the course of the conversation, Sona mentioned her conservative upbringing and how she never let that come in the way of accepting unconventional choices and instead was driven to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community during her artistic journey.
She said, "The artistic space is much more open-minded to gender. In the entertainment industry, there is a sense of openness and broad-mindedness. It is incredible that we finally have the freedom to celebrate Pride Month but we need to tell India, 'Don't Shut Up!' As a young country, we need to be more curious, push the envelope further and break more boundaries! I am counting on the youth of India to make this shift."
Sushant recalled how LGBTQIA+ references can be traced back to our art, culture and history. He welcomed the change that is unfolding at the policy level and also movies like 'Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui' which are opening up the space for brave, new conversations. He added, "I met the director and the producer of the film as well and suggested that if a 'Mumbai Kare Aashiqui' sequel is made, I would love to be a part of it!"
The two however also acknowledged that complete social acceptance continues to be elusive as people remember the transgender community only during weddings or births and disregard them the rest of the time. Sona said, "As far as representation at music festivals and artistic events is concerned, no one from the LGBTQ community is showcased at something like an NH7 event, for instance. All the e people who organise music festivals need to start becoming more inclusive." Sushant agreed, "You will be truly inclusive when representation goes beyond tokenism. People who talk about inclusivity need to walk the talk, take action on the claims and promises being made."
Sushant and Sona despite achieving massive success and even their own dream billboard moments in New York's Time Square have faced severe online trolling and discussed how they deal with it. Sona said, "The few of you who hate, we don't need you. India doesn't need you. Insults don't faze me and we shall not shut up anytime soon. Things are changing and will change, those who don't like it or are uncomfortable should log off." Sushant concurred and said, "Only the ignorant are full of fear and hate. They are scared because they don't know us. The more you know, the lesser your fears will be. So I don't blame them for it. It's their journey. I also don't let them make me feel bad. There is not enough time to focus on hate and I appreciate the positive and neglect the negative."
This resilience to go on despite being pushed back by prejudice and hate is what sums up the essence of 'Shut Up Sona,' a documentary being showcased on ZEE5 from July 1 onwards. Directed by Deepti Gupta, the National Award-winning documentary is an intimate account of how Sona is challenged as an artist and a woman at every step and told to not take too much space and to shut up. This is a story of a woman who however refuses to conform or to stop fighting for an equal space not just for herself but for everyone who feels excluded and discriminated against.
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