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I managed to break stereotypes in the Hindi film industry: Singer Usha Uthup

Speaking on the sidelines of the MTV India Music Summit, the veteran artiste said she represents a true Bharatiya.


Usha Uthup's husky voice has brought her fame not only for her songs in Hindi cinema, but also for hit regional songs in Punjabi, Bengali and Marathi. Usha Uthup says she represents a true Indian.

Asked 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 [Tamil], studied in Mumbai, married to a Keralite and live in Kolkata. Isn't it amazing?"

Usha Uthup said she does not understand why people would want to restrict themselves to a particular region.

"I have realized 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 the singer, her love for languages started way back during her school days when she had English, Hindi, Marathi and French as subjects and performed equally well in all of them, unlike in maths and science.

Known for her saris and bindis, Uthup, 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 late 1960s.

"I was draped in a sari covering myself," she recalled. "Beside me, there were singers dressed in small black dresses, reflecting glitz and glamour. Walking the aisle with glaring eyes targeting me for entering a nightclub in a sari, I tried to ignore all comments and the glamour spread around and concentrated solely on giving the best performance."

But for her, the nightclub was like a "preliminary school where I learnt". She drew a monthly salary of Rs750.

"My voice, which is quite distinguished, brought several laurels to me. It was here in the nightclub that I met my husband, Jani," Uthup said.

Usha Uthup believes Hindi cinema has created certain stereotypes. "While Lataji and Ashaji [Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle] were given the songs of leading ladies, I was asked to sing for vamps in films," she recounted. "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 Rekha, Sridevi, among many others."

And, of course, she is proud of her signature singing style. "I can't sing like anybody, but only like me," she said. "What I can do on stage, I can, but not all that everyone else is doing."

This also goes for her sense of style. "I love myself, my sari and my husky voice," Usha Uthup said. "We came from the middle class where I never thought of what to wear before going for my show. My mother, my sisters all used to drape saris and so I started doing the same. And somehow the bond between the sari and me grew stronger with time."

Speaking of her inexhaustible energy on stage, she said, "It's all psychic. You need to give it to the audience and they give it back — it's that simple."