From music to movies and reality shows, Monica Dogra has been there, done that. The singer, actress and former one-half of Mumbai-based alternative-electronic music duo Shaa’ir and Func has redefined the creative space with her talent and out-of-the-box offerings.
The Rock On!! and Dhobi Ghat actress recently lent her singing talent to stand up for ‘Freedom of Speech’ as part of MX Player’s ‘Express Yourself’, a series that harnesses the power of music as a form of expression, to bring alive the various issues that matter to voters today. Apart from Dogra, the first four episodes of ‘Express Yourself’ feature hard-hitting subjects sung by Sonu Nigam (women’s safety), Angarag ‘Papon’ Mahanta (river conservation) and Swanand Kirkire (inflation).
VibesMojo recently caught up with Dogra in a freewheeling interview. Edited Excerpts:
Q. From music to movies to reality shows, how do you divide yourself into catering to all the different aspects of the industry as a whole?
A. I don’t really divide myself. At the risk of sounding cliché, I just kind of move with the flow. I enjoy doing many things and I love that my life keeps me busy and keeps all parts of my creative self-activated. On one hand, I’m purely creative; on another, I have the heart of an activist; on yet another, because of my upbringing, I long for stability, so I’m quite the businesswoman. I love to dance, to write, to act, to sing. So, I do all sorts of things to address all parts of myself.
Q. What inspired you to take up music as a career and how do you define your music?
A. My mother says that I sang out of the womb. She once jokingly laughed that even my cries had melody. Currently, I’m exploring global bass, soca, moombah, dancehall, hip hop. I have always felt experimental, I give myself the freedom to explore and redefine all the time.
Q. Tell us your story behind the formation of your band ‘Shaa’ir + Func (sometimes stylised as ‘S+F’)?
A. Shaa’ir and Func was born at an after party, probably around 4 am, the first time I visited Mumbai. I met Randolph Correia [the other half of Shaa’ir and Func] when a bunch of people were jamming. I guess, we sort of fell in love with each other musically. We started making music just to see where it would go… it took us all over the world – and that was that!
Q. What inspires your creations?
A. Life and deep-seeking inspires me to create. It comes from an extremely primal place that is undeniable.
Q. You are also a trendsetter with your unique sense of fashion. From traditional saris to high-end couture, you seem to pull off everything with such ease and poise. Educate us on how you define your perspective about fashion.
A. I really don’t know how to explain why I wear what I wear, except for that it feels right, and so I do it. I’ve always loved to match my outsides to my insides. I also have a tremendous dichotomy inside me – I grew up devoted to my culture and quite spiritual… that reflects in my lehengas and sari blouses. I also grew up in Baltimore [US] steeped in hip-hop culture. That explains the other side.
Q. You concentrated on ‘Freedom of Speech’ in the short series by MX Player, which is one of the fundamental rights of every citizen. Do you think this fundamental right is being applied and used in a justified way, given the present and past scenario of this nation?
A. I think that people are bullied into silence — either by unfair censor boards, or by religious extremists in political power moral policing, or by trolls on the Internet. I think that our fundamental rights are compromised in a scary way, because it seems like no one is really doing anything about it. I feel speaking up is the most important and the most radical thing anyone and everyone can do.
Q. What sets your creative juices into motion?
A. For many, it’s the aesthetic beauty of nature. For some, it’s their own raw and unfiltered emotions.
Q. What is your muse?
A. For me, it’s alone time, travel, books, nature, love, heart ache, but most importantly – TIME. I have less and less and less of it, the more successful I become — that’s the shadow side of fame. Your pure creativity does suffer.
Q. From your social media posts, it seems like you have been all around the globe. What is your favourite go to place and why?
A. My favourite go-to place these days is Los Angeles. The city is just designed for solitude, nature, and spiritual seeking – also VEGANISM!
Q. What’s your favourite quote or a quote that you can relate to?
A. “If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me.” – WH Auden
I have this tattooed on my ribs.
Q. Tell us about your other interests apart from music.
A. I enjoy yoga, meditation, long-distance running, writing and filmmaking, dancing. I’m fairly predictable.
Q. Any message that you want to convey to your fans and any aspiring artist via this interview?
A. I love you. I’m grateful to your support. If you’re an aspiring artist, I’d say- DIY, till you die.