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Malayalam Movies and Songs

Usha Uthup

Born8th November, 1947
CareerSinging (18 songs from 15 Movies), Lyrics (5 songs from 4 Movies), Cast (2), Music (2 songs from 2 Movies)
First MovieChattakkaari (1974)

Usha Uthup (formerly Iyer), a popular Indian pop singer was born November 8, 1947. She was well known for popular hits in the late 1960s,1970s and 1980s.

She has sung in 15 Indian languages including Bengali, Hindi, English, Punjabi,Assamese, Oriya, Gujarati, Marathi, Konkani, Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu. She can also sing in several foreign languages including Dutch, French, German, Italian, Sinhalese, Swahili, Russian, Nepalese, Arabic, Creole, Zulu, and Spanish.

Usha Iyer was born in a Tamil brahmin family that hailed from Tamil Nadu, in Madras (now Chennai) in 1947. Her father Sami Iyer, later became the police commissioner of Bombay. She has three sisters Uma Pocha, Indira Srinivasan and Maya Sami, all of whom are singers and two brothers, one of whom is named Shyam. She was the fifth of six children. As a child, she lived in the police quarters at Lovelane in Byculla in Bombay and attended a local school.

When she was in school she was thrown out of music class because she didn't fit in with a voice like hers. But her music teacher recognized that she had some music in her and would give her clappers or triangles to play. Even though she was not formally trained in music, she grew up in an atmosphere of music. Her parents used to listen to a wide range from Western classical to Hindustani and Carnatic including Kishori Amonkar and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan on radio and she used to join them. She used to enjoy listening to Radio Ceylon.

Her next door neighbour was S.M.A. Pathan, who was then the deputy commissioner of police. His daughter, Jamila, inspired Usha to learn Hindi, wear salwar kameez and take up Indian classical music. This fusion approach helped her to pioneer her unique brand of Indian pop in the 70s.

Her first public singing occurred when she was nine. Her sisters who were already exploring a music career, took her to a musician called Hamir Sayani who gave her an opportunity to sing on the Ovaltine Music Hour in Radio Ceylon. She sang a number called "Mockingbird Hill". After that, several appearances followed through her teenage years.

Uthup started singing in a small nightclub in Chennai called as Nine Gem, when she was 20, wearing a saree and leg callipers. Her performance was so well received that the owner of the nightclub asked her to stay on for a week. After her first night club gig, she began singing in Calcutta at night clubs such as "Talk of the Town" and "Trincas". She met her future husband Uthup in Trincas. After Trincas, her next engagement took her to Delhi where she sang at the Oberoi hotels. By happenstance, a film crew belonging to Navketan unit including Shashi Kapoor visited the nightclub and they offered her a chance to sing movie playback. As a result, she started her Bollywood career with Hare Rama Hare Krishna. Originally, she was supposed to sing Dum Maro Dum along with Lata Mangeshkar. However, as a result of internal politicking on the part of other singers, she lost that chance but ended up singing an English verse.

In 1968, she recorded covers of two pop songs in English, "Jambalaya" and The Kingston Trio's "Greenback Dollar", on an EP, Love Story, and "Scotch and Soda", another Kingston Trio song, which sold very well in the Indian market. She also spent some time in London during this early period. She was a frequent visitor to Vernon Corea's BBC office at the Langham in London and was interviewed on "London Sounds Eastern" on BBC Radio London.

Uthup sang several songs in the 1970s and 1980s for music directors R D Burman and Bappi Lahiri. She also reprised some of R.D. Burman songs that were sung by others such as Mehbooba Mehbooba and Dum Maro Dum and popularised them to a distinct end.

In addition, she has also sung as a playback singer for the following Bollywood movies: Dhol (2007), June R (2005), Joggers' Park (2003), Jajantaram Mamantaram (2003), Ek Tha Raja (1996), Dushman Devta (1991), Bhavani Junction (1985), Hum Paanch (1980), and Purab Aur Pachhim (1970) among others.

She is a stage performer and gave performances all over the world and is known for her lively stage presence. She has been felicitated with several awards over the years, some of which include Rajiv Gandhi Purashkar for National Integration for quality music, Mahila Shiromoni Purashkar for international peace, and Channel [V] award for outstanding achievement.

She recorded her first album with Luis Banks for which she was paid Rs. 3500. Since then, she has recorded numerous albums. Usha's Hindi version of Michael Jackson's Don't Stop Til You Get Enough, titled '"Chhupke Kaon Aya'", can be found on the album Tom Middleton - The Trip (2004). A cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" is on another Tom Middleton album, Cosmosonica - Tom Middleton Presents Crazy Covers Vol. 1 (2005). She recently recorded a song called "Rhythm and Blues" with the Indian Rock Band Parikrama which appeared on Channel V on April 23 2007.

Uthup is also an actress, often singing and acting in India's signature musical films. She acted in "Pothen Vava" a Malayalam movie in 2006 as Kurisuveettil Mariyamma.

She made a cameo appearance in the movie "Bombay To Goa" with Amitabh Bachchan and Shatrughan Sinha in 1972. In 2007, she appeared in "Bow Barracks Forever" directed by Anjun Dutt as herself. Again in 2007, she appeared in "Hattrick" music video as herself.

She appeared in disguise on Indian Idol 1 and 2. She is one of the co-judges of a reality show in Malayalam called Idea Star Singer 2007 and Idea Star Singer 2008.

Usha's trademark is her massive bindi and flowers that she keeps in her head, as well as her Kancheepuram saris.

West Bengal Public Works Department minister Jatin Chakraborty who belonged to the Communist Party of India banned her from singing in all state-owned buildings accusing her of singing in a "decadent" style. The controversy started when she was invited to sing at the Government Cancer Research Center in Thakurpukur in Calcutta and the minister preemtively enforced the ban to prevent her. After an explosive meeting with the minister, she sued the Government. Several political figures, including the Chief Minister Jyoti Basu came out in support of her. She won the lawsuit against the government. Following her father's advise, she dropped her separate defamation lawsuit against the minister. The minister subsequently resigned from his post after he made further allegations against other people including the son of the chief minister. In 2008, the communists again resorted to further insults when the CPI(M) Kerala General secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, irritated by his party workers who had gone berserk during a public meeting at Kottayam, admonished them that it was not Usha Uthup's programme but the meeting of the communists. As a response, popular pop singer Usha Uthup said she and her supporters were hurt by such a remark.

She is married to Jani Chacko Uthup who is originally of Kerala extraction since 1971. They have a daughter Anjali and a son Sunny. She currently lives in Kolkata with her husband. She is considered an icon of modern Kolkata and is an active social presence in the city life.

Prepared by: Dr. Susie Pazhavarical


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