‘My biggest achievement is yet to come’ - Usha Uthup
Having been in the industry for close to 50 years, Usha Uthup has enough stories to share, some surprising ones too. For instance, she goes out of her way to help two cobblers in Bengal, Sushil and Misri Das, who make the popular kanjeevaram sneakers that have defined her style over the years. “I always try to get them a better deal in life,” says the versatile singer, who has also shared their stories in public forums. She is also presently shooting for a Tamil movie where she stars alongside Akshara Haasan, while she wishes she had sung Pritam Chakraborty’s hit track Bulleya, from Karan Johar’s movie Ae Dil Hain Mushkil. Usha will be seen performing in Chennai this weekend, before which we caught up with her and found out more about the performance and how she juggles multiple languages in the recording studio. “I will be singing songs in Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, and Punjabi in Chennai,” she says. Excerpts:
It has been three years since you rendered a Bollywood song. And now you surprised everyone with your impressive rendition of the Lucifer anthem. Take us through how you choose your projects...
I think, you mean Rock On 2. After that movie, I had done some other Hindi projects. But the Lucifer anthem has been really amazing — I wrote that myself and the music was done by Deepak Dev, who was absolutely brilliant. When I got this opportunity, I went for it, because I always write when I am inspired by something. And, yes, after Rock On 2, I didn’t do any other movie project other than a Goan film and a couple of other Hindi ones that are either not yet released or are not happening.
As for Lucifer, they asked me to come on board and I said yes, with no commercial intent. It just inspired me and I wrote the song. If I have to write or do an original project, there has to be a situation (to inspire it in the first place). I am very humbled if I get another chance to sing in a film; it’s very exciting. I just shot for a recent film in Chennai where I play the grandmother of a girl who is learning Carnatic music from me. The role of the girl is played by Akshara Haasan, so yes, that is turning out lovely too.
How do you take care of your vocal health?
I don’t pamper it too much. It is important to not pamper one’s voice or throat because then it becomes difficult to get them back in shape. I do most of the things that are usually done by everyone. For example, I still eat tayir (curd), which most musicians would advise against. I always tell other people to eat whatever they feel like eating. But, the one thing I am very careful about is the pollution these days, because when I started singing around 50 years ago, the air wasn’t as polluted as it is now. So, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the oil we fry, are the things I am really careful about.
Over the years, what according to you were your biggest achievements?
My biggest achievement is yet to come, I think. One of the nicest things that have happened to me recently was when a school was paying tribute to iconic women according to them, and they felicitated me along with other icons like Kiran Bedi, Mary Kom, Medha Patkar, and others. I was really touched and I thought then that things have come a full circle for me — from a time when people wouldn’t take nightclub singers like me seriously, to now school children being inspired by me. I wouldn’t call this my top achievement, but certainly a happy moment.
For you, which language is the most difficult to sing in?
I would say Malayalam, because it has many more alphabets than most other languages. But, I am very conscious that my pronunciation should be right and I take a lot of trouble with that, so it is not as easy as it seems. I have got my own formula for how I deal with different languages. I first write the lyrics of it in English, and then I use my own personal code that represents different ways of enunciating in different languages. On the contrary, Tamil is one of the easiest, because we can cut the words into multiple syllables, and it would still not change the meaning. Other easy languages are Konkani and Bengali.
Tell us about your style sensibilities. Who according to you are the most fashionable musicians in the industry at present?
I have been wearing kanjeevaram sneakers for quite sometime, and it’s become quite a rage with everybody. People think that it’s a big style statement, although I started wearing it for the sake of comfort, mostly in the later 15 years of my career. In fact, it was my daughter who gave me the idea. Among other musicians, I particularly like Daler Mehndi’s style sense of occasionally matching the colour of his turban with that of the rest of his attire.
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