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.
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.
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.