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Sophiya's Choice

Sophiya's Choice

January 18, 2013
Does it take death to recognise life?

I saw her in Akasa and thought she was the most beautiful thing in the galaxy. Then I met her and knew it was for real.
It was 1993, and thanks to STAR TV beaming the avaricious world of Bold and the Beautiful  into the subcontinent, coming generations of Indians would never be the same again. I had just graduated and was bumming around the dusty streets of Bombay, rigidly rejecting the thought that all that was in store for me was a nine-to-five grind-till-you-die routine. Surely there had to be more? 

Just as I was giving up hope, the spark which fired by the incessant re-watching of Broadcast News on smuggled-in-from-Dubai VHS tapes, was fanned into full-blown fire by Channel V. The music videos on the channel represented the world of rock ‘n roll in a far away land, where everything was free, and there was no hold to expressing individuality in whatever way one saw fit.  So there I was in my parents’ home in Lokhandwala Complex, Bombay, sniffing at the smell of sewage that high tide had blown in from the sea, and glued to this music channel non-stop. I watched Channel V, to the extent that the address of Hung Hom Bay in then exotic Hong Kong—where one had to write in with requests for music videos to be aired by the VJ’s (yes I am of that vintage who have actually known a world before the email became common place, collapsing geographical perceptions forever)—will forever be etched in my memory.

Among the Born in the USA world of head banging and air guitaring rock videos hosted by Danny McGill, I noticed a slight figure dancing with the grace of a ballerina. Light on her feet she twirled as she sang One Night in My Life, Two Hearts beat together in a music video by the same name, featuring her band Akasa.

Sophiya Haque was the first Indian looking female face I had seen in a music video which set easy-to-get English words to the strains of Indian ragas and was broadcast on an honest-to-goodness mainstream music channel in India. It was my first taste of how when the East married the West the result could be mind blowing.

Perhaps somewhere at that point began the realisation that I too could break down walls, which those before me had not. There was a sense of liberation, of actually daring to dream to travel to different countries around the world, of following my heart and not having to conform to that what was being handed down to me.

I had no idea then that I would actually end up joining MTV, be part of the team which brought Bollywood music to the mainstream, contributing to its cult status in popular culture around the world, live in Hong Kong, and actually meet Sophiya over drinks, post her stage-searing performance as a courtesan in The Far Pavilions at the West End in London.

In real life, she was even more petite than on screen, ethereal, glowing from the adrenaline of the just wrapped up show and with a ready laughter that pealed out at every opportunity. I wondered how such a wonderful woman, one who embodied the perfect blend of the magical qualities of the East rounded off by western sophistication, had not found a wider platform. I didn’t realise it would take her sudden demise for headlines across UK and India to explode with what was so evident to everyone who had interacted with her over her life-time. I didn’t know her well yet her death disturbed me more than it should. Perhaps because she died the same age as me, perhaps because we were part of the very same revolution of satellite television which swept India in the nineties? Because somewhere some seventh degree of separation from my life past had collapsed and silently folded into darkness?

Why is it that only in death do we recognise life? When the image of immortality sweeps away the ego that prevented us from showing them the stars?

Watch Sophie Haque & Akasa in One Night in My Life here


  • clem alford
    clem alford
    18.02.13 02:43 AM
    Remember her when she joined our group too young to sign the record contract with WEA so he mother had to do it!
  • SJC
    20.01.13 05:25 PM
    i saw her in wah wah girls. she was an amazing dancer.
  • Abhijeet Upponi (@Abhi)
    Abhijeet Upponi (@Abhi)
    20.01.13 04:40 PM
    @laxmi, I live in Thane, a fast growing suburb of Mumbai, and have made my comments on various such e-print media similar to the one you put up. Yes, as you rightly mentioned, there is a common thread to all those who have come out to express shock and concern. We are of the same generation. I understand that things move on. But not before due credit is given to the beautiful departed soul. If you think there is something we can do about it, let me know. - aupponi at yahoo dot com.
  • Laxmi (@laxmi)
    Laxmi (@laxmi)
    20.01.13 08:42 AM
    @AbhijeetUpponi, I am in India right now and though the print media talked about her demise... the daily audience I think has moved on so much that not too many think about the role she played in satellite TV history in India. I think perhaps its those of us who were of the same generation as her -- and live outside India who seem to feel her absence a lot more....
  • Abhijeet Upponi
    Abhijeet Upponi
    19.01.13 04:09 PM
    @laxmi - Absolutely. The first one such. It was more like a promo to capture the indian audiance. I sure was impressed. The efforts did pay off as it put MTV Asia on the viewership radar. It was a Cable TV Multi-Channel revolution then.
    I did try to search the website of MTV India if they had any mention on Sophiya's demise. About the one who had gone all out to give MTV a firm footing in India/Asia. I could not find any (sic). I ask myself - Does it take death to recognise life? And then, how many do recognise? I feel like screaming to all - 'Hello you people out there, do anyone of you really care?' (tears).
    Such a loss.... such a big loss.
  • Laxmi (@laxmi)
    Laxmi (@laxmi)
    19.01.13 06:58 AM
    @Abhijeet Upponi - One Night in my life is like one of the first music videos I ever so. Made a big impression
  • Laxmi (@laxmi)
    Laxmi (@laxmi)
    19.01.13 06:57 AM
    @Abhijeet Upponi @Rickie Khosla, for some reason Sophiya's demise disturbed me a lot - its not that I knew her well at all, yet it stayed with me... so I had to write this to find out it was because of the seven degrees that separated us -- being part of the same music TV tribe that we were -- and same age!
  • Rajpriya
    18.01.13 08:22 PM
    Oh my God,

    Can hardly believe she is no more.

    I watched Sophya in "Privates in Parade" somewhere in the eighties in London. My friends said she was from India. I have seen her in Coronation Street too.

    Life and death are too close for comfort

    Rest in Peace Sophya
  • Abhijeet Upponi
    Abhijeet Upponi
    18.01.13 04:51 PM
    RIP, Sophiya Haque! Sad but true. For some weird and eeire reason, I had been frantically searching for this song (One Night In My Life) for the past 2 months. I had been watching this video on MTV regularly when MTV had launched in India. I had gone head over heels over this video. I recon this would have been her 'fan-calling', thanking for all the support... Can never forget Sophiya. Not during my lifetime.
  • Rickie Khosla
    Rickie Khosla
    18.01.13 04:13 PM
    Thanks for the obituary (though one must never have to associate that word with someone so young).
    I still remember Sophiya well from the early days of MTV - mainly because she was so different from the pioneer VJs of the fledgling MTV Asia - Danny, Rahul etc. All grace and quiet charm.
    Rest in peace, Sophiya.

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