The first thing I associate with Usha Uthup is the iconic ‘Vande Mataram’ co-sung by her in ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’. Back then, the power in her voice managed to bring out the patriot in me. A decade later, I was blessed with the opportunity of attending her concert. And the elegant lady sang and how – 21 spectacular songs in the span of 2 hours. Phew!
With the overflowing amphitheatre welcoming her to a chorus of ‘Daaarrrrrlllllinnngggg’, RJ Rohini of 93.5 Red FM kicked off the final lap of the ‘Celebrate Bandra’ festival.
Usha Uthup Up On Stage!
Dressed in her trademark oversized bindi and Kanjeevaram sari, Usha Uthup waltzed onto the stage. She performed a mix of classic English songs along with the right dose of Bollywood. With a tambourine in hand, she appreciated the ‘love quotient of the audience’ with her rendition of Mac Davis’ “I believe in music, I believe in love”.
“Hey Big Spender” was up next. The ease with which she simultaneously sang and interacted with the audience during Peggy Lee’s “Fever” was amazing.
“Everything in life is cyclic and keeps coming back. People don’t do songs like this anymore and I’m so glad I can sing these today.”
Frank Sinatra’s “Volare” presented the audience with Jazz to the sound of saxophones.
The audience swayed and applauded Usha Uthup while she crooned Ben E. King’s “Stand by me” with an infectious laugh. Meanwhile, this random duo came to the forefront and started dancing, thus blocking the view as well as stealing the limelight. Not cool! Usha remained unperturbed and even applauded the two.
“Back in those days, I was always limited to doing the playback for the ‘bad girls’. The ‘good girls’ generally went to Lata Mangeshkar. People used to say,”Yeh kya gaayegi. Saali sirf angrezi gaati hain”. (What will she sing? She can only sing in English). But I’m a really good girl. Plus look at my weight. I’m big, but there is more of me to love. I’ve always been caught between the Anglo-Indian musicians and Bollywood. I was the first to sing in a sari at a nightclub. I used to ensure my repertoire would consist of regional songs”
After sharing her anecdote, she managed to transfer the audience to a complete different era with the ethereal Stevie Wonder’s “I just called to say I love you”. I was truly in awe of this woman who drove the song to a stunning crescendo by constantly raising the pitch.
“The next song is very special to me. Back in the 1950s, when I was a school girl (mind you, I was a good student), I used to listen to this song with my heart”
Dean Martin’s “Sway” truly swayed me. The duo made a comeback and I have to admit they danced well. This time, thankfully, on the stage.
And OMG, Usha Uthup SURPRISED me with Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana”. An all-time favorite of mine, my expectations shot through the roof. Alas! It seemed to lack a punch. Though her haunting rendition of the line ‘Don’t fall in love’ towards the end sort of made up for it.
“Sometimes it is difficult to say things in life. I generally manage to say it but I love to express myself through my music. That is something I’ve always done.”
Usha Uthup truly expressed her joy, gratitude and love with Bee Gees’ “Words”. The audience sang most of the song while she basked in the limelight with a heart-warming smile and a triumphant look which seemed to say, “See! I reached out to all of you with my singing”.
“I believe in only one religion – the religion of love.”
Upon the audience’s request, she sung “My Prayer”, a haunting melody beautifully complemented by the keyboardist. It gently tugged at my heartstrings. With her eyes brimming with tears, she passionately sung Gene Raskin’s “Those Were The Days” with the audience happily joining in and encouraging her.
“My next song is special to me. My first international contract was to sing in Nairobi. On my last night there, I sang at the international casino. Even Mr. Boothalingam, the UN ambassador, was in the audience. The same song was to be sung the next night by a sweet Chinese girl, Sandra Long. I can just imagine how she must’ve sung it in Chinese.”
Along with a Chinese fan, she sang 3 versions of Morris Albert’s “Feelings” – her own, the Chinese version and a south Indian version. Check out the Chinese version in the following video:
Tambourines were then distributed for the audience to play along with her during Hank Wiliam’s “Jambalaya”. Nalini R. Shiroor, an elderly fan of Usha, got into the mood and gyrated with the tambourine. It was adorable to see her dance as everyone joined in. As she says, “Usha’s singing inspired me to go up there and dance”. How true!
Upon the audience’s repeated cajoling, she switched to Bollywood after John Lennon’s “Imagine”, Bobby Darin’s “Things” and a song sung in French.
Aboard The Bollywood Express
And it was BOLLYWOOD time! Usha Uthup was back on her own turf!!!
Psychedelic lights paved way to a super powerful ‘Dum Maro Dum’ thus transporting the audience to a pothead’s den. If that wasn’t enough, people started gyrating to her dynamic seductive voice during “Senorita” from the movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. The amphitheatre was transformed to a complete fiesta-like scenario. People dancing here, people dancing there, people dancing everywhere!
“Dddaaarrrllliiinnnggg” The song I’d been waiting for earnestly, was finally here. I had to move to the side to procure whatever footage I could amidst the hustle-bustle of the crazy audience, but it was totally worth losing my position. She was brilliant! (Note: I apologize to you, dear reader, for not getting a full-length video of the same)
Usha Uthup knows how to surprise her audience. The famous Tamil song, “Apdi Pode” was truly unexpected.
English, Hindi, French and now Tamil – I wondered what’s next?? The finale!
It was a finale deemed fit for a king. With the backdrop of hundreds of lit candles, she brought the concert to a spectacular end with Michael Jackson’s “We are the world” thus staying true to the song by uniting the audience as one big family. Mesmerizing would have been an understatement.
She wanted to perform some of her other iconic songs such as ‘Koi Yahaan Aha Nache’, ‘One Two Cha Cha Cha’, ‘Shaan Se’, ‘Rambo Ho’ & ‘Hari Om Hari’ but we ran out of time due to Mumbai’s noise deadline of 10 pm. Shame, I tell you!
I met up with the diva backstage to personally congratulate her for having stupendously performed 21 songs without a single pause. At the age of 64, her dedication and vigor is applause-worthy. Check out a message from Usha Uthup herself for the readers of Score magazine:
Stay tuned to www.highonscore.com for many more gig reviews!