Op-Ed: Dear Sona! Even your staunchest supporter can’t defend this one

By Sandeep Sahu

Had a non-Odia done it, it would have still been atrocious. But coming as it does from someone who loves to position herself as the ambassador of Odia culture in the worldwide music arena, it is absolutely unforgivable. Having already made mincemeat of the iconic ‘Rangabati’ number three years ago, crooner Sona Mohapatra has now turned her attention to another song that has been mandatory fare for every Odia for ages to do what she does best: taking liberties with everything related to chart busting Odia numbers; from the lyrics to the beats and the tune.

With her rendition of ‘Aahe Nila Shaila’, the legendary prayer to Lord Jagannath written by Bhakta Salabega, the best known Muslim devotee of the Lord, Sona has surpassed her own unenviable record of doing grave injustice to the Odia ethos that she set with her ‘Rangabati’ number made for Coke Studio three years ago. She has mispronounced words that even non Odia singers would take great care to avoid. Why, she has even pronounced Salabega as Salebega, who is a household name in Odisha. Anuradha Paudwal, who has sung a series of ‘janaanas’ to Lord Jagannath, would certainly have been ashamed of the numerous blunders of pronunciation that she has committed in a song lasting no more than four and a half minutes.

I remember many Odias, especially the younger ones, taking serious exception to a scathing piece I had written after her rendition of ‘Rangabati’. Their argument: she had actually done a great ‘favour’ to Odia culture by taking it ‘to the world’! But so atrocious are the pronunciation horrors of the ‘Aahe Nila Shaila’ number that I doubt if any of them would come to her defence in this case.

As someone who grew up in Rourkela, I find it hard to believe that Sona has cut herself off from her roots so completely that he would mispronounce words as commonplace as ‘janaana’ and ‘kala’. There is just an outside chance that this was an act of deliberate provocation she revels in.

Mispronunciation of Odia words, however, is just part of the problem. In everything from its diction to its musical rendition, it is actually an affront to Odia sensibilities.  Far from giving the listener a sense of bhakti, this Paddy Fields version fills him/her with a sense of disgust by killing its very soul.

I have always had an issue with this flourishing industry of making money out of other people’s creations, more so when this copycat industry picks up songs that have been part of the growing up process of generations of Odias. And Sona Mohapatra is not the only culprit in this respect. The late Gulshan Kumar, who started this obnoxious trend by coming up with plagiarised versions of timeless classics of Hindi film industry in the 1980s, was the original sinner. He showed the way for the likes of Sona to commercially exploit the popularity of these songs later. Just about the only difference between Gulshan Kumar and Sona Mohapatra is that the former never pretended that he was ‘creating’ new listeners for these songs like the latter does.  At the time of launching the Coke Studio version of ‘Rangabati’, she had grandiosely claimed that she was taking this supposedly little-known number to the world stage, blissfully unaware of the fact that it had already reached the ‘world stage’ years ago courtesy the BBC and Voice of America. A few lakh hits on YouTube is all that these new age singers aim at. The original ‘Rangabati’ number continues to be a mandatory affair in every marriage procession. I wonder how many listen to the Coke Studio version three years down the line. The classics endure while these flash-in-the-pan offerings die a natural death after a few weeks, or months at best, even though they are imitations of the original numbers.

It is my firm conviction that this short cut is the preferred option for mediocre singers and composers who cannot come up with a number that stands the test of time. That’s why they exercise the easier option of fiddling with other people’s creations while putting up the pretence that they are giving the song a fresh lease of life.

Sorry, Sona. Even your staunchest supporter would find it hard to defend this one!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)