Usha Uthup’s husky voice has brought her fame not only in Hindi songs in Bollywood but she is equally famous for singing hit regional songs in Punjabi, Bengali and Marathi. She says she represents a true Indian.
When asked that how she manages to sing songs in so many different languages, she said: “I represent a true ‘Bharatiya’.”
“What I love about myself is that I am a Madrasi (Tamilian), studied in Mumbai, married to a Keralite and live in Kolkata. Isn’t it amazing,” she asked.
Usha doesn’t understand why people want to restrict themselves to a particular region they belong to.
“I have realised that when you sing in someone else’s language, your language has a spark. Now I could do many shows in Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, South and other places because of the same spark,” she shared on the sidelines of the MTV India Music Summit.
According to Usha, her love for different languages started way back during her school days when she had English, Hindi, Marathi and French as subjects and she performed equally good in all of them, unlike in Maths and Science.
Known for her sari and bindi-clad look, Usha, who has a distinct style of singing, said “What is this amma going to sing here?” was the first comment she received on the first day of her job at her first workplace — a nightclub in Chennai which she had joined in the 1960s.
“I was draped in a sari covering myself and besides me, there were singers who were dressed in small black dresses, reflecting glitz and glamour. Walking the aisle with glaring eyes targeting me for entering nightclub in a sari, I tried ignoring all comments and the glamour spread around and concentrated solely on giving the best performance,” the renowned singer recounted.
But for her, the nightclub was like her “preliminary school where I learnt”. She drew a monthly salary of Rs 750.
“My voice, which is quite distinguished, brought several laurels to me. It was here in the nightclub where I met my husband, Jani,” Usha said.
She feels Bollywood has set certain stereotypes in the industry.
“While Lataji and Asha ji (Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle) were given the songs of leading ladies, I was asked to sing for vamps in films. However, I managed to break this set notion of the film industry that good females shall always come with that feeble, sweet voice.
“Ultimately, there came a time when I sang for Bollywood divas — be it Rekha, Sridevi among many others.”
Nevertheless, she is proud to have her signature style of singing.
“I can’t sing like anybody, but only like me. What I can do on stage, I can, but not all that everyone else is doing,” she said.
This also goes for her sense of style.
“I love myself, my sari and my husky voice. We came from the middle class where I never thought what to wear before going for my show. My mother, my sisters all used to drape saris and so did I started doing and somehow, the bond between sari and me grew stronger with time,” she added.
Speaking of her non-exhaustive energy on stage, she said: “It’s all psychic. You need to give it to the audience and they shall give it back — it’s that simple.”