With a Twitter handle named Mumbai Ki Rani and through her easy radio banter on all things Bollywood, local trains, sexual harassment on the streets of the financial capital, food, fashion and more, Radio Jockey Malishka Mendonsa has been the quintessential Mumbai girl for years.
Everybody who knows her well says Malishka says it as she sees it, in Bollywood-style Hinglish, with a dose of dark humour. That’s why nobody was surprised when her video, mocking the civic body for its ill-preparedness ahead of the monsoon, went viral earlier this month. After all, this is not the first time RJ Malishka was taking up pressing Mumbai issues. Since her career began with Red FM in 2005, she has run various radio campaigns on road safety, against eve-teasing as well as many civic issues, including potholes.
But the Yuva Sena, student wing of the Shiv Sena which runs the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, was not amused and demanded that the municipal chief file a “defamation” complaint against the RJ and the radio station for blaming the civic body for problems such as traffic congestion and delayed local trains. What followed last week was a visit by municipal staffers of the insecticide department to the 34-year-old mediaperson’s home in suburban Bandra and a notice slapped on her – there was stagnant water in her potted plants, where mosquitoes could breed, the notice said.
Known as the ‘ballsy’ one among her colleagues, Malishka, who herself is in New York, only responded to the civic body’s notice via Twitter, promising to release “six songs in my head” on issues the city is grappling with. But a flood of support has emerged on social media for the RJ’s views, and for her right to parody the municipality. A few placard-holding protesters also staged minor dharnas in various suburbs, while dozens of other songs, memes and videos emerged on the Internet, all questioning the BMC for targeting the RJ.
According to colleagues, while others in the radio fraternity have also taken up civic issues, Malishka stands out owing to her unique connection with her listeners that has made her a very popular name in the industry.
Vehrnon Ibrahim, an independent music specialist and the former vice-president of Red FM, remembers her to be as passionate and aggressive as she was when he hired her 12 years ago. “She was initially reluctant to become an RJ since she wanted to do other things. It took ten meetings over the course of six months to convince her to join Red FM. We were giving the radio channel an aggressive branding makeover and after listening to her show once she fit the bill. Many people get put off by her hyper energy but no one can ignore her. She is popular not because of the content of her show, but because of what she stands for, quite similar to known personalities such as Robin Williams or Oprah Winfrey,” he says.
Ibrahim adds that Mendonsa was involved in an internet radio programme in New Delhi and had a couple of years’ experience before she joined Red FM. “Mumbai deserves her and people need to hear her. She has gained a lot of experience in these years but hasn’t changed at all. She continues to stand for people’s rights and tells the relevant stories. Even though a radio show is a one-way communication, she speaks on behalf of her listeners and confronts the authorities,” he says.
Another colleague, Vaibhav Vishal, a creative consultant and former national creative head of Red FM, points out that Mendonsa is among the very few RJs who speak in the language of the people listening to her shows.
“She is sensitive, sensible and sassy — all the attributes of a good RJ which she utilises perfectly. She doesn’t look down upon her listeners and is a good listener herself due to which she has an amazing connect with them. Her show has been running for more than 10 years and she has become a superstar RJ,” he says.
Vishal adds that interacting with filmstars has added to her popularity and her ‘coolness’ quotient. “She has thousands of followers (on Twitter) including Amitabh Bachchan and it has made her very popular. Red FM has built her up consciously as a social crusader especially with their annual campaigns. Unlike others in the industry, she has broken the trend and has a large fan following,” he says.
Remembering her as being vocal about the city’s issues, Vishal says he found the BMC’s reaction surprising. “Malishka has always been ballsy. She has taken up similar issues before and she has called BMC officials in the past in order to solve them in her own quirky way. The BMC has been sporting and supportive so far, until now,” he says.
Similar to Vishal’s views, songwriter Rashmi Virag, who previously worked with Red FM as the creative head, referred to Mendonsa as a great asset to the city. “Malishka is very close to her listeners and has taken the efforts to take up their issues as well as help the underprivileged. Even during major incidents in the city, she would give live updates to her listeners and would walk around the city for her shows. An RJ’s attribute is how local one can be and as citizens it is our right to point out civic issues. The video has been misread and shows that the BMC needs to have a sense of humour. After all, who would not like our roads to be clean and civic amenities to be up to date,” he says.Under the banner of ‘Bajao for a cause’, Mendonsa, who is known as the face of the channel in Mumbai, has taken up several campaigns for the visually challenged children, children of sex workers as well as people living in old-age homes.
Under the banner of ‘Bajao for a cause’, Mendonsa, who is known as the face of the channel in Mumbai, has taken up several campaigns for the visually challenged children, children of sex workers as well as people living in old-age homes.
Apart from those who have worked alongside her, even her competitors speak out in her favour, supporting the cause her video chose. Referring to the bad roads mentioned in the video, RJ Siddharth Mishra, who works for BIG FM, for instance, says these issues are recurring ones that have been around for more than a decade. “The BMC doesn’t have a sense of humour and doesn’t want to be seen in a bad light. But everything is visible and even if Malishka hadn’t mentioned them in the video, the potholes still exist on the roads. The BMC could have countered her with their response instead of stooping to such a level. Despite being the richest civic body in Asia, the BMC can’t repair potholes,” he says.
Despite the wave of support for Malishka on social media, the Shiv Sena maintains its stand.
Core team member of the Yuva Sena, Samadhan Sarvankar, who had written to the civic chief demanding a Rs 500 crore defamation suit against her, says, “We have just stated that railways and traffic problems does not fall under the BMC’s jurisdiction and yet the BMC is being blamed for it. The video has gone viral across the world and is giving a wrong impression of the BMC. It is defaming the civic body,” he told The Indian Express.
Referring to the growing support for Mendonsa from people as well as political parties like the BJP, Congress and AAP, he said, “It is just for the sake of publicity. If she had any complaints, she should have complained directly to the BMC as an alert citizen. The BJP has supported Malishka only to divert attention. The same BJP had demanded an FIR against AIB for a meme against Prime Minister Modi just a week ago. This simply exposes their double standards.”