The People’s Singer

After being thrown out of a music class by her teacher while at school, Usha Uthup has come a long way over 37 years

By Sunil D’cruz (Contributor)

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Published: Tue 18 Sep 2007, 11:24 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 8:50 PM

SHE IS best known for her foot-tapping Indian pop songs such as ‘Dum Maro Dum’ to ‘I believe in Music’, Shaan se’, ‘One Two Cha Cha Cha’, ‘Hari Om Hari’, ‘Ramba Ho Ho’ and ‘Jambal Aya’. The people’s singer, Usha Uthup is best known for her versatility, singing in 14 Indian and eight foreign languages. She immediately strikes a cord with her audience by singing in their language at her numerous concerts worldwide.

The ‘Shining Star’ was on her tenth visit to Muscat recently, performing at the Rain Dance 7 event at the Al Sawadi Beach Resort.

Excerpts from an exclusive interview:

How different was the experience performing at a Rain Dance concert?

It was absolutely marvellous and an amazing experience. I had a great audience of 1000 - 1200 people. It was unbelievable. This was the second time I was performing at the Al Sawadi Beach Hotel. The way they organize, it is really superb. At one point, I felt like getting down the stage and dancing. With the positive vibrations that I’m getting, my career is on the upswing and it’s getting better.

How do you look back on your 37 years in the music industry?

It’s been quite amazing. I’m a compulsive optimist and a happy person. I’m like a tennis ball. I keep bouncing back. There’s been a lot of changes in the music industry. The use of electronics in a big way, the drums, the keyboards have all changed. Though not all change is good, I welcome the changes in the music industry. Not to progress is to regress.

Do you regret not being given enough opportunities in playback singing for Bollywood movies?

I could be terribly frustrated but am not. It’s not that I haven’t been given opportunities. Time, time ki baat hai (It’s all about time). The industry is too fast. If you are not there at that time, somebody else is ready to fill in your shoes. A few do wait though. So I got a chance to sing in Hattrick and Dhool.

Any films you regret not singing for?

Sometimes I feel sad about the film Parineeta. It was written for me with Rekha performing.

So how about shifting your base from Kolkatta to Mumbai?

I go to Mumbai regularly. I spent my childhood there. Last month I was performing in Not Just Jazz By The Bay (formerly Talk of the Town). But my base is Kolkatta.

Tell us about your experience putting together the album ‘We Believe in Now’ with leading artistes after the tsunami disaster?

It was great. I got together 96 artistes from Kerala, Tamil Nadu ... in fact every corner of India. It was one paramount task. Many of the songs I wrote myself. Everyone obliged with one phone call from me. Hariharan, Udit Narayan, Sonu Nigam, Alka Yagnik, S.P. Balasubrahmaniam, K.S. Chitra and so many more. It was the turning point of my career. The sad thing is that it did not get the exposure it required.

You sing in 14 different Indian and eight foreign languages. But how many of these languages can you actually speak?

I can speak Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Malayalam and Telugu. I can understand Punjabi, Assamese, Konkani and Tamil. Of the foreign languages, I can understand Swahili.

How do you learn singing in different languages?

I have a flair for languages. I work hard at it.

Tell us about your obsession for bangles.

Yes, I have a collection of about 10,000 bangles and continue collecting bangles.

This year several contestants from Kolkatta performed exceedingly well at the Indian Idol 3 contest. Does this gladden your heart?

It is not just about Kolkatta. Through the Indian Idol contest, we were able to unearth amazing talent. There are millions of people in India and so few singers. In any case, Kolkatta always had talent. K.L. Saigal, S.D. Burman, R,D, Burman, Kishore Kumar, Geeta Dutt and Kumar Sanu all came from Kolkatta.

Which Indian singers do you admire most?

S.P. Balasubramaniam, Shankar Mahadevan, Yesudas, Sonu Nigam and Chitra from the South. Everybody is doing exceedingly well.

Do you prefer performing in a live show or a nightclub?

Live is live. The place is different. But wherever it is, I give unashamedly. Recently, I performed in a stadium in Trivandrum in front of 50,000 - 60,000 people. Ultimately one has to connect with the audience.

Which is the latest album that you are working on?

I have recorded a song on Women’s Empowerment in 14 Indian languages and in English too. It is for Renuka Chowdhury, the Indian Minister for Women & Child Development and will be released soon. I am also working on a multi-lingual album ‘From Kashmir to Kanyakumari.’ It is like an imaginary train with several stops and songs of the region on the way.

A spl-ash of shocks

Is Aishwarya Rai getting insecure? City Times finds out why she is making all the wrong moves

ONLY RECENTLY one reported on how she was making fun of Rani on the sets of Laaga Chunari Mein Daag. This did not do well with Aditya Chopra who felt that an outsider did not have the right to come on the sets of his film and make fun of his heroine Rani; who is also the love of his life. This obviously is a black mark on her ambitions of doing a Yashraj film in the near future. To make matters worse, instead of realising her faux pas and making amends for the sake of her husband who is after all Abhishek’s co star, she added fuel to the fire by refusing to attend the party thrown by Rani to celebrate the completion of the film. Even though Ash had insulted Rani, the latter was gracious enough to invite Ash and pretend nothing happened. Abhishek adores Rani’s mom’s fish curry and used to be a regular visitor at their place. Abhishek and Ash did not even bother to inform Rani that they would not be attending.

Jaya on the other hand was gracious enough to call and say she was not able to attend. Did she not want to upset her daughter-in –law?

But here’s a story one cannot ignore. When Salman was arrested, reportedly a member of the Bachchan household innocently picked up a telephone extension, and apparently, speaking to a friend on the line was Ash. This loyal person is said to have overheard Ash telling her friend that the news of Salman’s arrest had upset her. (All very well, since he was after all a significant part of her life earlier.) But things went a step further when Ash reportedly told the friend that too many things seemed to be in Salman’s disfavour. In fact, she was thinking of having a pooja done on his behalf, in the hope that it would help set things right for him.

The shocked household member is said to have later conveyed this conversation to one of Ash’s in-laws and much consternation followed. After all, she is their son’s wife and while she is allowed her thoughts and feelings, perhaps a pooja for an ex-boyfriend seemed a little too much.

This follows a little too soon in the wake of the shock the Bachchans reportedly got when they viewed the DVD scene of Ash in her Hollywood film The Last Legion. For in it, Ash is said to be stepping out of the water in nothing but a kurta, with her assets on display. Earlier, just before the wedding, it was her explicit screen kiss with Hrithik from Dhoom 2 that caused embarrassment.

One hears that the Bachchans have discreetly but sternly let Ash know that certain things just don’t fit in with the Bachchan culture, like too much exposure in films. And it is for this very reason that Ash is said to have refused Karan Johar’s next film.

Perhaps all these things are forgivable but Salman Khan will remain a definite thorn in the side of husband Abhishek Bachchan.

Ash should tread gently as this industry is unforgiving. Angering Adi Chopra is a big mistake as he has powerful friends in the industry. Ash hardly has any heroes to boast of as the major ones have refused to work opposite her. Therefore she is left with only husband Abhishek. She has now succeeded in angering the heroines too. Rano, of course, but also Celina and Shilpa. She made her secretary call up all the publications to say that Ash was the only one selected to do Pink Panther 2. This forced the agents of Celina and Shilpa to enter into the mudslinging arena to bring proof that both their clients were definitely approached before Ash. When all the proof came out in the open, Ash looked foolish, so she reportedly got the Pink Panther 2 PR to send in a denial again. Who really cares for all this politicking except for Ash? Does she not realise that everyday she keeps adding to her list of enemies?

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