Usha Uthup

On Kerala - Sometimes after a great show you are so excited and want to know how the programme was. They will just say, `kozhapam illa.' For every shilpi the most important thing is the applause. We live to listen to it. Actually if you can make it in Kerala, you can make it anywhere in the world. The most difficult people to please are in Kerala …So said Usha Utup, rightly so, in an interview….Usha Uthup has always been and will always be a favourite of mine. If you are short of optimism, see a show of hers (even a tape will suffice) to take in her 1000Watt smile and guffaws, or well, just listen to her songs.

I first heard about Usha Iyer, as she was known then, from our English teacher at school, Iyer saar. He used to tell us during the English classes, ‘Usha is my niece, and sings pop music’ And we used to imagine a girl swinging in her bell-bottoms, tight short tops (like Hare Rama hare Krishna’s Zeenat Aman – a movie for which Usha sang) blowing hair and the such. Later on, I discovered that she had always remained clothed in a chaste Sari and her big, trademark bindi, with mullapoo in her hair…Dhool (Saravanan) has done a lovely article on Usha
, so I wont repeat all of her life story here. Entering filmdom, MB Srinivasan, Kunnankudi vaidyanathan, RD Burman, Bhappi Lahri etc were some of the guys who helped her along in the film music world of yester years, though she complains that she never had any godfathers…now she does many a stage show and releases an odd album now and then.

Always a trailblazer, Usha started off with forming a pop music troupe with her sisters - called the Sami sisters– in the 70’s – Hailing from a staunch Iyer family, Cop father and all, and singing in a night club – imagine a single girl singing in a night club..Well that was Usha. Then she went on to marry an ardent fan Utup, a Christian and …even though a vegetarian herself (but eating junk food
mostly?) becomes expert at cooking Kerala fish curries (you can find her recipe here). Not to stop there, she has now decided to act, as Mammutty’s mom in an upcoming movie.. Well why not? And, she is a grandmother in real life who gives this advice – I recommend grandchildren to one and all. I love their honesty. They have changed my life and brought so much meaning to it.

I remember her songs in Kanyakumari, Shivathandavam (Way back in 1976, Kamal Haasan sang an English song along with Usha Uthup under the music direction of MB Srinivasan for the film Shivathandavam), later on I heard her EP vinyl versions of ‘Beautiful Sunday’ and ‘Seasons in the sun’ so many times. We played them ever so often over the college music system. Even after hearing the Terry jacks original version and the new one by Westlife, my memory sticks to the Usha version of Seasons in the sun!!! I had always been hunting for her songs, but they are so difficult to come by these days, except for the odd number she sang for Hindi movies.. There are a few on Usha’s own website
, but my favourites from her EMI, HMI, Polydor vinyl days are not to be seen anywhere.

Trivia - there is a story of her involvement in Pancham’s ever-famous song Chura Liya in Yadoon Ki Baarat. It seems the two of them had gone to see ‘If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium’ and it was from the title song of that English movie that the tune evolved - but then who knows?

I have not got a chance so far to see her immensely popular stage shows, though we saw tapes & bits here  there. One of these days, she will come to town and we will be there, to cheer, clap, smile, laugh and enjoy.


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