On Monica Dogra & The Lines That Separate Critique And Provocation

7 July 2015

We know nobody asked for another article on Monica Dogra, but try and bear with us.

Over the last week, the Internet floodgates opened to drown our social media feeds with statuses, tweets and opinion pieces on Monica Dogra and the controversy surrounding her crowdfunding campaign ‘Shiver’.

The campaign was launched to raise money for a music video, and possibly other live art projects, that will champion social change and human rights in India, particularly for the LGBTQ communities. From the campaign’s own note – ‘The goal is to build an interactive installation including footage from “Shiver”, wherein biological and non-biological females can interact and engage in a discourse that sheds light on the feminine experience, not limited to gender.’ You can read the entire thing here for yourselves and watch the video below.

‘Shiver’ was fairly problematic from the get-go and a number of members and supporters on the LGBTQ community took to the comment section to criticise it, almost immediately. At the core of the better-reasoned arguments were two predominant problems. The biggest flaw was her wording and language (something Monica Dogra has acknowledged in her defence here on Youth Ki Awaz) particularly the phrase ‘high art’, which many claimed created an elitist wall around her work, and formed a barrier that restricted the inclusion of the entwined and deep rooted problems of caste and class in the LGBTQ community.

More than the rest of ‘Shiver’s’ note combined, those two words curiously (and sometimes amusingly) enough sent people into an unprecedented tizzy (“Waiting for my phone call too so I can understand what this high art or high fart is”, said one particularly witty commentator).

The second issue was the money the campaign wanted to raise – 50 lakh INR in total – no small sum by any account, particularly as there was no breakup provided. The LGBTQ community felt betrayed once more and many questioned Monica Dogra’s intentions, and what exactly this money would do to push their cause in India, when it could just be contributed directly to those who need it. Although many international public figures have started campaigns for larger amounts ('Kickstarter queen' Amanda Palmer jumps to mind) as a celebrity in the public eye, you have to expect questioning, at least, when aiming to raise a sum that large.

There are countless other little critiques towards the campaign as well – some of which have some merit, but most constitute personal attacks or are tangential. Some have debatably called into question the international collaborators and crew, who need funding, angrily citing the un-Indian-ness and added expense of it all (despite Dogra’s attempted to clear it up in her Youth Ki Awaz piece, she was promptly opposed in the comments section yet again).

Many also attacked the superficial nature of her campaign rewards, which included going out to shop and party with her. Monica Dogra’s rewards do sound paltry when compared to other campaigns - there’s no physical music involved, no exclusive streams, videos or merchandise – things that most music lovers really want. But she is a celebrity with an irrefutably large fan base (easily one of the biggest in the indie music space) and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if people wanted to be a part of it. If Thom Yorke offered to join me for a sandwich at lunch one day, on the condition that I backed his campaign with a few thousand, I would cough up the cash in a heartbeat (I’m thinking of what I’d have to sell just imagining it).

But then came the deluge on social media and that DailyO article everyone’s talking about. Ravina Rawal’s piece, titled “How Monica Dogra Asked For Money On The Net And Became A Joke” did make many fair points about the campaign. Yes, Dogra may have received more support, and fewer trolls, if she was just more direct. However, most of her sensible arguments were swathed in very personal, vitriolic jibes (excerpt below). We can’t say whether Rawal’s intent was to personally malign Dogra, however, her digs did form the foundation for her article’s humour, and the reason it got shared as much as it did. The piece was also responsible for goading the faceless denizens of the Internet to attack Dogra. Writers will write and everyone should have a right to express an opinion and Rawal is no exception.

Source: dailyO

The problem was that ultimately, “How Monica Dogra Asked For Money On The Net And Became A Joke” did less to put the campaigns legitimate problems in perspective and weigh the pros and cons, and concentrated instead on Dogra’s bare midriff, bindis, accent and stage presence. A surprising (and hypocritical) thing – Dogra’s appearance and disposition is a large part of being Shaa’ir - and is something that we as an audience have decided to attach value to. No one has seemed to mind it at all till now.

The inevitable unfolded with the publication of the article. The trolls of the Internet took on the roles of moral enforcers, gathered their torches and - safely anonymous, behind the protection of their screens - began a quest to shame and demand atonement - a terrifyingly medieval thing. From her accent and attire to her music and personal life, nothing was left unbruised.

And for what? Yes, the campaign had problems, but no one is twisting anyone’s arm to pay. You can still listen to all of Shaai’r + Func’s music and watch their videos online – for free.

Comprehensible criticism turned into a veritable witch-hunt for a woman whose intentions, despite the questionable campaign, were certainly never to harm anyone. Monica Dogra has been vocal of her support for the LGBTQ community for years, acting in films like Relapse and speaking on multiple occasions about the issues that surround it. It is extremely unfortunate that her past work has been buried under the virality of one campaign.

Many also scoffed at the idea of art contributing to anything but entertainment. We’re not talking in specific about the ‘Shiver’ campaign specifically now, but the argument that art and social change have no connection at all is bogus. Art – particularly literature and music, have been revolutionary tools that have created tangible societal changes during the course of humanity. Monica Dogra’s art project may not be able to change the landscape of the LGBTQ rights movement. But great art, if done right, can start a dialogue, and over time alter perceptions conditioned over generations. That’s the point. If you want immediate, tangible change, contribute to the cause directly as so many have already suggested. Contribute anyway, irrespective of what Monica Dogra or anyone else wants to do. But be aware that not all art is created for arts sake, and don’t dismiss its historical link to social movement.

Again, setting aside the amount, we noticed that many people had a problem with Monica Dogra asking for money from her fans, as opposed to vague “other sources”. People consume film, music and art on a daily basis, but why are we so uncomfortable when we’re asked to pay for it? It is curious that out of all the atrocities that exist in the cyber world (and there are many) - we picked Monica Dogra’s optional crowdsourcing campaign to stick our needles into.

Real humans have shelled out $55,000 for potato salad, crowdfunded a pilot to write “stupid things in the sky" with his plane and (this is my favourite) – successfully paid a man whose goal was to make the “largest jockstrap the world has ever seen”. There are bad and good crowdfunding campaigns.

The result of said kickstarter campaign

Ravina Rawal began her article by saying she’s “…been very patient with India's ‘indie music scene’” and that “…most of our indie artists have risen to fame for reasons that are not strictly restricted to talent.”

Who is she talking about? We’re asking sincerely. Even very talented musicians are struggling to get a gig a month – and add the fact that no one wants to pay even a couple of hundred rupees for entry. Apart from a measly handful of bands and the growing DJ population, barely anyone in the indie music industry is making enough money to call it a living, and we don’t have enough labels to shell out the funds required for people to record and sell their music - assuming people are willing to buy it in the first place.

So why shouldn’t an artist ask the people consuming their music for money?

Skyharbour crowdfunded their last album, which got a whole lot of love. Sandunes started a Wishberry campaign to gather funds for a great little animated music video for ‘Exit Strategy’. Control Alt Delete has used the model to fund all of their events, successfully – and why not? Putting up a show, or making music and art isn’t cheap. Show your support to artists you like by buying their music and paying for concerts. If you don’t like someone’s idea, don’t contribute. Critique freely, but with thought, self-reflexivity and the awareness that there is a person behind the face.

In the age of Bandcamp, free streaming and crowdfunding, we can determine the value of art in better ways than starting virtual riots.

Words: Diya Gupta
Image credit (thumb): Shoeb Mashadi



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