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Song of the Day # 591

From: bb on: Thu Mar 03, 2005 12:23 am

Song of the Day: Two songs by Usha Uthup.

‘Life is a flower’ from mEl naattu marumagaL (1975/ CNV Movies). Music by Kunnakkudi Vaithyanathan.

Listen to the song

‘Under the mango tree’ from madhana maaLigai (1976/ NVR Pictures). Lyrics & Music by M.B.Srinivasan.

Listen to the song

- Saravanan writes:

Passing through the foyer of a shopping mall here, I came across a group of small kids listening in rapt attention to a story being told. And as I passed the crowd, I stopped suddenly, for it was a very familiar voice that was keeping the kids engrossed. And sure enough the raconteur was a woman in a bright Kanjeevaram sari, with her trademark pottu and flowers in place. I became aware then that besides the wide-eyed kids, there were many adults too who seemed drawn by Usha Utup’s spell. Needless to say, I too found myself inexorably inching into the circle, and soon I was lost happily in the world of the cobbler Kalia. I sighed at his poverty, empathized with his prayer for a genie who would make him rich, was wonderstruck at Bootram’s sudden materialization, and filled with a vague foreboding at his seemingly innocent rider…. And at the end of the narration as I clapped unabashedly along with the thrilled kids and the equally pleased adults, I was struck at the instant rapport that Usha managed to strike with her audience….Children and adults from vastly diverse cultures and nationalities all seemed transfixed by her scintillating narration of the popular Karadi tales.

When the young Usha Iyer made her bow on stage in 1969, singing at the famed ‘Talk of the Town’ in Bombay, (now ‘Not Just Jazz By The Bay’ and Mumbai respectively), she found herself becoming the talk of the town. For at that time it was something unheard of that a sari clad girl from a conservative South-Indian family should croon at a nightclub, and become an instant hit with the crowd at that! But that that’s Usha… a bindaas trendsetter, who has never permitted stereotypes sway her.

Usha was born in a close-knit family, with three sisters and two brothers. Her Police Superintendent father, Sami Iyer was a strict disciplinarian, and made sure his children were inculcated with good principles and morals. Usha studied in the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Bombay and later at the JJ School of Fine Arts. The entire Sami household was passionate about music. The children grew up listening to film music from Radio Ceylon along with albums of an incredibly wide range of great artistes like Mozart, M.S.Subbulakshmi, Begum Akhtar, Beethoven, K.C. De, Frank Sinatra and Kumar Gandharva. Usha’s elder sisters, the talented Uma and Indira were her role models, and it was not long before Usha became the highest paid crooner in India. Singing popular numbers like ‘Scotch and Soda’, ‘Green Back Dollar’, ‘Beautiful Sunday’, ‘ Jambalaya’, ‘Ding a ling’, ‘White winged dove’, ‘Killing me softly’, ‘Hotel California’, ‘We’ll meet again’, ‘Shai Ra Re’ and ‘Lemon Tree’ etc, and tempering them judiciously with a liberal dose of varied desi fare like ‘haal kaisa hai janaab ka’, ‘mera naam chin chin chu’, ‘bekaraar karke hamein’, ‘ina meena deeka’, ‘dum maaro dum’ and the rollicking ‘Kali teri gut te paranda tera lal ni’, Usha was a true trailblazing pioneer, the original diva of Indian Pop Music. Her fabulous repertoire includes popular numbers in Russian, Spanish, French, Italian, Sinhalese, Hebrew, Chinese and even Swahili, Zulu and Creole! In fact, Usha is a well-known name in Kenya, where she is invited repeatedly to perform. The entire country swings with her as Usha renders with nonchalant aplomb popular Kenyan songs like ‘Majengo Siendhi Tena’, ‘Jumbe Nipelekke Kwetu’ and ‘Harambi Harambi’!

Though her husky resonance wasn’t found quite suitable for archetypal film heroines in song sequences, Usha Uthup has sung some memorable film songs in various languages over the years. In Hindi, for instance, her film songs like ‘Good times and bad times’, ‘’Listen to the pouring rain’, I love you’, ‘ramba ho samba ho’, ‘one two cha cha cha’, ‘hari om hari’, ‘doston se pyar kiya’, ‘tu mujhe jaan se bhi pyara hai’ and ‘koyi yahaan aaha naache naache’ are bestowed with an appeal that transcends generations of listeners. In recent years, she has sung in movies like Daud (for ARR), Godmother, Boot, Jogger’s Park, 99.9 FM, Fun2ssh and the children’s film Jajantaram Mamantaram.

It was Kunnakkudi Vaithyanathan who brought Usha into tfm. ‘Life is a flower’ (notwithstanding the apparent resemblance that the line ‘come along hand in hand sing along with me’ bears to ‘listen to the pouring rain’) found unprecedented airtime and was a very popular song. MBS called her next to render the ‘Mango tree’ song in madhana maaLigai (MBS had earlier made Usha sing ‘Peethambara, O Krishna' in Malayalam). Some other tfm works of Usha are ‘men may come and men may go’ (vaanga sambandhi vaanga), ‘hello lover’ (idhayakkani), ‘catch me if you can’ (oorukku uzhaippavan), ‘dial me dear’ (nadagamE ulagam), ‘raathiriyil thookam illai’ & ‘silai silai thaan’ (unnai solli kutRamillai) and ‘vEgam vEagm pOgum pOgum’ (anjali). In all, the tally of Usha’s film songs in various languages would come close to 150.

Usha married Jani Utup, who was her fan in Calcutta. In an interview, she recalled their first meeting- how on her very first night at Trinca’s in Calcutta, a dashing Jani walked up to her and complimented her on her performance. Usha has since made Calcutta her home, and her inimitable rendition of popular Bengali songs like ‘Preme pore jai’, ‘Aami jani tumi aashbe’, ‘kachhe eso raja babu’, ‘Kokatate bati nei’ and ‘Mano, mano na’ have ensured her a loyal fan following in Bengal. Usha and Jani have a daughter, Angeli and son, Sunny.

Usha is a grandmother now, and three decades have passed by since she started singing. And clichéd though it may sound, age has not withered her charm even a wee bit. Her infectious enthusiasm is undiminished and her enviable energy as indefatigable as ever. She is busy every day, enthralling crowds in various corners of the world, and in many cases in aid of worthy charitable organizations. The lines from her song seem succinct enough to sum up Usha Utup’s joyous stance- ‘Men may come and men may go, but I go on forever..’

So why don’t we smile and sing along too? :)

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