THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: One saw an emotional Usha Uthup at the recent Filmfare Awards, who broke into a rush of tears, after winning the ‘best playback singer’ for the first time in her career. Ask her about it and she says, “I was overwhelmed. Almost every younger singer had already won the award, and this was my first. I felt very grateful.”
One would have imagined Usha to become cynical of the awards, since she didn’t win it for this long. But she says she never felt that way. “I never think like that. I was very excited to get the award,” she says.
Though Usha sounds humble about the award, the singer with her inimitable husky voice, emphasises her influence on popular Indian music. The singer, born to Tamilian parents, grew up in Mumbai. She went on to marry a Malayali, and settled in Kolkata. All this gave her a rare opportunity to imbibe the musical traditions of these various places. “I have sung in 18 languages. And that I believe greatly helps a singer to expand his/her horizons. Every language has a different musicality to it. I always tell youngsters not to sing only in their own language. I feel wonderful to see singers like Shreya Ghoshal and Sonu Nigam taking my example and singing in so many tongues,” she says.
The singer has a strong Kerala connection of course. “My marriage is the obvious connection. My husband is from Kottayam. My children, Anjali and Sunny were born here. I have my wonderful mother-in-law, who is lovely, fit and healthy. My grandchildren live in Kochi. Then there are my professional shows, and reality singing shows that keep me close to Kerala,” she says, with her ever brimming excitement.
The singer who started singing English music at Chennai night clubs in the 70s, created a sensation by dressing up in an elaborate South Indian attire, complete with kanjivaram silks and gajra. But Usha says it was never a strategy. “Today, it appears like some great positioning or marketing, but I can assure you it wasn’t so,” she says. And then adds, “I just had nothing else to wear. Those were the only clothes I had. I belonged to a middle-class family, and like everyone else I wore a sari.”