Veteran singer Usha Uthup brought the house down with her sharp wit and mesmerizing performance at the India Today Conclave East 2018. Excerpts from the conversation:
ON HER UNCHARACTERISTIC VOICE
I started singing in 1969. Next year, I will complete 50 years. I came in at a time when people thought that ladies’ voices should be pretty and gentle, and there I came with a voice like Mr Ram Madhav’s. No one expected a woman in a saree looking like me singing in a nightclub. When I came on stage, they thought ‘what is this amma going to do?’ But when I sang, they were like, wow.
ON HER TRADEMARK LOOK
Many people think that this is strategy, marketing but in those days, there was nothing like that. I come from a middle-class family, my mother wore a saree. It’s not for impact, it’s the only dress I knew.
ON SINGING IN A NIGHTCLUB IN THE 1960s
I think it was the timing that made it so correct for me. I really don’t have a hard luck story. There was no struggle. At that time, the nightclub was only a place where men went. After I came in, they began bringing their wives, sisters in. It became a family place.
The women in the audience became my best friends. They felt that with a body and a face like mine, I was no threat to their marriages. The only scandal I ever had, I married.
ON LANDING HER BOLLYWOOD BREAK
I started singing at the Oberoi hotel in Delhi. That’s when I got an offer from Navketan Films. They offered Hare Rama Hare Krishna to me.
ON TURNING HER WEAKNESS INTO HER STRENGTH
If you recognize your weakness, you can make it your strength. I used to wear heels. I used to do three sessions in a day. I was paid Rs 750. Not for a show, for the whole month. I should have listened to my mother and worn comfortable shoes. My weakness was my feet. Now I wear sneakers.
People talk about sharaab like it has never happened anywhere before. But it has been happening since time immemorial in India. In a nightclub, I got used to everyone drinking and having a good time. If you drink, it’s okay. If you don’t drink, it’s okay. But don’t smoke!