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Interviews |  11 Jun 2016 19:17 |  By Mallika Deb

When no one gave me work, opportunity, or money, I just did it myself : Monica Dogra

MUMBAI: Monica Dogra is a performer who bridges the gap between art and music. She is one-half of Mumbai-based indie rock duo Shaa'ir n Func. She has also worked as a playback singer for a few Bollywood films and played one of the lead roles in the Bollywood film 'Dhobi Ghat'. Coming back to India from the US was the step that gave wings to her music career.'s Mallika Deb got a chance to have a quick interaction with this singing star recently. Excerpts. 

How choosy and picky have you become, in terms of your own music and activities involving public appearances over a career spanning a decade?

When I began, the industry hadn't developed.  I was developing an industry, developing my audience, and also making art and music to cater to it.  I still feel like I'm a part of things that are in their very early stages.  I can see how much easier it is for people just beginning their careers as independent artists in India now than it was for me, but at the same time, I see how lucky I am to have been a part of building what exists today.  I feel like I'm finally getting the benefits of all the hard work that I did for little to no money, relying on nothing other than love, and what could be deemed as quixotic belief.  So yes, I am choosy now about where I put my energy and how I spend my time.  I know what I'm worth and I finally feel the courage to stand on my own two feet and ask for it. 

Do you believe that learning classical music is important?

Not really. I think it's truly wonderful. But to each their own.

What is your take on limited media coverage that the indie music receives in India in comparison to the west? 

I think media has a tremendous power in shaping people's careers and it cannot be argued that often times, coverage and attention goes towards those who are born with a name or who have the money and privilege to pay for it.  I think the time is fast approaching where the media is seeing their responsibility in highlighting those who are truly deserving. And I'm grateful for it.

According to you, what are the core differences between commercial Bollywood and independent music?

God, I have no idea what to say. I suppose Bollywood really relies on star factor, money, access, and independent music really rely on ingenuity,talent. But both have their own versions of the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

How do you feel about the progress and transformation in the Hindi film music Industry?

I am very close friends with amazing Bollywood producers and I have nothing but admiration and respect for them.  It is its own animal.  It requires so much hard work. I'll be honest, I'm becoming much more of an admirer of Bollywood today than I was five years ago. 

Do you think the growing EDM scene in India is overshadowing the local talents or controlling the commercial music prospects?

I can't comment on the EDM prospects.  I really know nothing about it. 

'The Stage' (airs on Colors Infinity) season two is coming soon. Will your approach and appearance be different compared to the last season?

No, not really.  I'll probably look the same.  Maybe a little less depressed and a little more fit (wink). This year we are traveling for the auditions so I'm really excited to see the talent uncovered in the furthest reaches of the country!  It's all just so exciting. 

For a musician from the alternative music scene, how difficult does it become to be the face of a brand ? What is the advice you would want to provide to these musicians?

For some musicians, their management is excellent and has managed to sell them to various brands because of their associations and positive relationships.  In my case, I've worked my butt off to represent something as an artist, as a person with a voice, and that's why brands have been keen to associate with me.  I won't deny the fact that acting in a film with Aamir Khan definitely changed my life though and after that being on a show like ‘The Dewarists’.  Thus, being on TV and being seen on film opened up these avenues to me which I never had access to before.

Musicians have still not attained the same amount of status as actors have. Has this aspect bothered you?

Yes, but as mentioned before, singers like Rihanna are a product of huge marketing and media spends.  Independent artists just do not have that kind of support in India.  Major record labels pay artists nothing for their music, TV networks pay artists nothing for their content through their network relies on indie music videos. It is what it is right now and one cannot blame the labels because it is a risk, as it is difficult to get audiences to pay. I have no answers really except in my case, being fully DIY and a multi-faceted artist really helped me move forward.  When no one gave me work, opportunity, or money - I just did it myself.  Hell or high water.  It's lonely and it's scary.  But it sure as hell feels good when you succeed against all odds.