Wednesday, December 7, 2022
HomePageTurnerBook Excerpts’In films, I have mostly sung for the bad girls’ —Why Usha...

’In films, I have mostly sung for the bad girls’ —Why Usha Uthup is more than Bollywood songs

In an authorised biography, Vikas Kumar Jha writes about Usha Uthup’s journey from jazz bands in Chennai’s glitzy nightclubs to a pan-India musical sensation.

Text Size:

Usha’s songs are replete with thrill, rhythm and joy. From ‘Scotch  and  Soda’,  ‘Fever’,  ‘Hari  Om  Hari’,  ‘Pouring  Rain’,  ‘Doston  Se  Pyaar  Kiya  .  .  .  Dushmanon  Se  Badla  Liya’,  ‘One Two Cha Cha Cha’, ‘Rambha Ho’, ‘Tu Mujhe Jaan Se Bhi Pyara Hai’, ‘Gulabi Chehra’, ‘Uri Uri Baba’, ‘Darling’, ‘Hai Ye Maya’, ‘Bolo Ta Ra Ra Ra’, ‘Ye Raat Monalisa’, ‘Aami Shotti Bolchi’, ‘Koi Yahan Nache’, to ‘Hai Yahi Prarthana’, ‘Vande Mataram’, Christmas carols and Karadi rhymes for children. These and other countless  songs  are  drizzled  with  Usha’s  one-of-a-kind  style of singing. 

She is evergreen. Her voice is eternal like the spring. Unlike Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, Usha might not  have  sung  unlimited  number  of  Bollywood  songs  but  she  has  unlimited  fans,  and  her  voice  has  touched  people  across  the world.


Also read: From Prateek Kuhad to When Chai Met Toast, indie music has risen from the ashes of the ‘90s


She  never  got  the  safety  net  of  film  songs,  but  despite  that  her  songs  have  mass  appeal  because  of  the  festivity  in  her  voice.  It  is  said  her  vocal  style  ushers  in  joy  and  is  trouble  for  sadness.  That’s why during her shows when she asks her audience, ‘Okay? Ready to rock?’, the reply is always in the affirmative. 

On the map of  popular  music,  Usha  has  been  the  queen  for  decades.  Yet  she  is modest and often smiles and says, ‘In films, I have mostly sung for the bad girls. But it’s God’s grace that despite that, people have always loved my songs.’ Then after a pause she smiles in the same  enticing manner and says, ‘You know what the cat sitting on the tree  says  to  Alice  in  Alice  in  Wonderland?  It  says,  “Well  behaved  women rarely make history.” I love to sing wild songs.’

In  the  beginning,  Usha  used  to  wonder  as  to  what  kind  of  singer should she be to be accepted by the people. Neither could she be called a playback singer  entirely nor a nightclub singer. But in time, she was recognized as a pop singer. It was the common belief that a pop song means a fast-paced and loud English song. Slowly and steadily she successfully broke this misconception and proved  that  pop  songs  do  not  have  to  be  necessarily  in  English.  

Also, that pop songs aren’t always loud, but can also be melodious and  meaningful.  Many  famous  songs  sung  by  her  like  ‘Fever’,  ‘California  Dreaming’,  ‘Godfather’,  ‘Love  Story’,  and  the  most  recent of songs, ‘Skyfall’, aren’t fast-moving at all.


Also read: Pop Goes India—my suggestion to Rajiv Gandhi when he wanted to promote rock: Remo Fernandes


She  also  sang  many  popular  songs  in  a  variety  of  Indian  languages  and  believed  that  they  conveyed  a  message.  She  started  asking audiences during her performances, ‘The lines of “Rambha Ho” . . . 

Jitna tum pyaar se jee loge utni hii zindagi . . . The time lived with  love  is  life  .  .  .  Is  that  meaningless?  Doston  se  pyaar  kiya . . . We loved our friends. Is that just an entertaining noise? 

In the film Kudrat,  the  song  I  sang,  “Hume  Tumse  Pyaar  Kitna  .  .  .”  Is  that  meaningless? In the same film another song sung by me . . . “Dukh sukh ki har mala kudrat hi piroti hai, Haathon ki lakeeron mein ye jaagti aur  soti  hai  .  .  .”

Nature  binds  the  thread  that  holds  both  joy  and  sadness.  It  wakes  up  and  sleeps  on  the  lines  of  fate  on  our  hands.  Is that meaningless?’ 

In direct conversations with the audience, she addressed and dismissed the objectionable connotations associated with pop songs and evoked respect for them in people’s hearts. However, in the last few years during interviews when she was asked,  ‘Are  you  an  ethnic  singer?  Are  you  a  jazz  singer?  Or  are you a pop singer?’ Her response was, ‘I am a people’s singer. I am totally a gypsy. I am a nomad of music.’

This excerpt from ‘The Queen of Indian Pop: The Authorised Biography of Usha Uthup’ by Vikas Kumar Jha, translated by Srishti Jha, has been published with permission from Penguin Random House India.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism

Most Popular