Katha Collage -Kajal Ojha-Vaidya
Name: Usha Uthup
Venue: Studio Vibration, Radhanath Chaudhary Road, Kolkata
Age: 75 years
Wouldn’t you? That the song Choli Ke Peechhe Kya Hai from the movie ‘Khalnayak’ was released with Ella Arun and Alka Yagnik’s voice, Where was I? It’s true. That song was recorded with me, but my voice did not go on screen! Whatever the reason, I have realized one thing, as much as we have in our hands is ours! It is useless to crave or long for anything else. In 1969 I had an attack of mild paralysis in my left leg. No one knows… But, at that time I was walking with a slight limp. If it wasn’t for Jani’s courage, I might not have been able to stand up, but at that time my J.J. School of Art education came in handy for me. I started wearing designer sneakers, sports or walking shoes under sarees. For which we approached several people, but we couldn’t find anyone who could make me such designer shoes. I fantasized that someone would make me a pair of sneakers out of Indian handloom fabric to match my Kanjeevaram sari that I could wear on stage. After battling with several cobblers for a while, I finally found two brothers named Mishri and Sushil. Who made me shoes… Today I wear shoes under my sari, gajra on my head and a big bindi above me and write ‘Music’ (Isai) in Tamil which has become an identity in itself.
After what happened in the movie ‘Khalnayak’, my mind was broken. Who is not aware of the politics that goes on in the world of music even today in Hindi films? After much thought I decided that I don’t want to struggle to sing in Hindi films. I have my own audience, if I can maintain it and entertain it, there is a lot. I sang many songs in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Assamese and many other languages. Manna Dey’s uncle KC Dey sang many songs to me in Bengali films.
My life was going very well in those days, but in 1983 Bengali film actress Geeta Dey came to me with some friends. Those people wanted to do a charity event for Thakurpur Cancer Research Institute. I said I will definitely come. Geeta Dey was very happy… Two days later she told me that a minister from Calcutta, Jatin Chakraborty, was not giving her permission to use the stadium. He said that Usha Uthup promotes pop culture instead of Bengali culture, so the government will not help the program if that is the case. I felt sad, but I didn’t say anything… He showed me a newspaper in which the news had already been printed, ‘Jatin Chakraborty bans Usha Uthup’s culture.’
I directly reached Jatin Chakraborty’s chamber. He did not talk to me well. I decided to answer this. I told everything to Subratoroy Chaudhary, the most prominent lawyer in Calcutta. Jani was a friend of Subrato’s son. We made the case and Subratoroy Chaudhary presented the major arguments of Indian history starting with the arrival of the Aryas. I was present in court. Newspapers covered the case a lot. At that time, Jyoti Basu was the Chief Minister of West Bengal. He made a public statement that, ‘Usha Uthup is an honorable and good singer.’ I helped him in Red Cross Society and other programs. He knew me, after his statement, the judgment given by the Calcutta High Court proved to be historic and caused a stir in the world of Indian music. Roy Chowdhury argued, “How can Usha Uthup’s program be indecent or uncivilized if the likes of West Bengal Governor, Chief Minister, Mother Teresa and Prime Minister were present?
Naturally we won and the program was done.
By then my son Sunny had grown up. Funnily enough, in 1984 I passed the Rabindra Sangeet exam and got my album released by Jatin Chakraborty! On the stage I asked my son to bow to him… Coming home, my son Sunny was angry, “Why did you need to bow to me?
I explained to him, “Never hold a grudge for a day in life. Who won in the end… just to remember. What he did is his problem, we behaved well! I believe this was a very important lesson for Sunny… such small lessons from me and Jani have played a huge part in what Sunny is today.
I have worked with almost all music directors, but my experience with Panchmada has been completely different and emotional. Almost everyone believes that ‘1942: Love Story’ was his last work. Actually his last work was my album of Bengali songs ‘Bati Nei’ which was released three months after his death. To tell the truth, I still cannot forget the way Asha Bhosle took her bungalow after her departure and put Mirandevi in an old age home in her 92 years. Mirandevi passed away in 2007. From 1995-96 to 2007, even though he had a bungalow, he stayed in a nursing home! As I looked more closely at the world, I realized that the world is not as good or simple as we think it is…
However, I have enjoyed working with the new generation of boys. When Farhan Akhtar and Shankar-Ehsaan Loy came to me for the film ‘Don 2’, the way they recorded the song and the way we had fun, I felt that the film world is no longer the same. I started singing Hindi songs again. Farhan Akhtar tweeted, “Recorded a song for ‘Don 2’ with Usha Uthup. What a sound, what an energy and what an estimate! She is a Kanjivaram-wearing rockstar.
After that Illyaraja, Bappi Laheri, A.R. Worked with many people like Rahman, Ramgopal Varma. It was a lot of fun too…
I could never have imagined that a whole chapter of my life is yet to come. I sang a song for ‘Bombay Talkie’, in which I was on screen myself, but I never thought that someone would invite me to act as an actress. In 2006, for the first time, I got an invitation to act in a Malayalam film ‘Pothan Vava’. After that in 2007 I acted in Mahmud Sahib’s film ‘Bombay to Goa’, and then in Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada films. Also acted in Vishal Bharadwaj’s film ‘7 Khoon Maaf’. Until then I never thought of a music video, but then we made a beautiful music video from Studio Vibration. For me, the point of pride is that I have sung in a Rishikesh Mukherjee film on a poem by Harindranath Chattopadhyay, or I have had the opportunity to sing in a music video with Bob Dylan…
Today, even at the age of 75, I sing with all my heart, content to make the audience sway to the rhythm of my music for two-and-a-half hours. Daughter Anjali and son Sunny are living a nice life in their own way. Jani is not only a husband but also a friend, companion and sometimes my manager…
Usha Uthup has become a history, a phenomenon… a name that will be immortalized in years to come as the ‘Hindi Pop Queen’.