Usha Uthup: With a song in her heart

Trincas is the best thing that has happened to Park Street, says Usha Uthup crooning down memory lane on the 50th anniversary of the famous bar and restaurant in Kolkata’s entertainment hub. Our correspondent Souvik Ghosh was there to listen to the pop icon whose journey began all here at Park Street in 1969.
Celebrating the 50th year of her musical bond with Kolkata’s Trincas, singer Usha Uthup was effusive at the bar and restaurant on Park Street, the nightlife hub of the eastern metropolis. “It is the best thing that can happen to the Park Street,” she says.
Posing for IBNS-TWF at Trincas, Usha Uthup says, “I keep coming back to Trincas every now and then but 2019 is very special for me as it is my 50th year.”
“Trincas is the best thing that has happened to Park Street. It always has a wonderful crowd. And whenever I come here, everybody feels this belongs to me which it does actually. Trincas has taught me how the song is much more than the singer. This is the place where I learnt everything about music including technicalities.”
Turning the clock back to 1969, when she began her musical journey in Kolkata through live music at Trincas, Usha recounts her experience of having stalwarts like Satyajit Ray, Uttam Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Kabir Bedi, Jyoti Basu, Somnath Chatterjee on the same floor.
Pointing out the corner which was used to be occupied by Bengal’s icon Uttam Kumar and his actress wife Supriya Devi, Usha also hums a few lines from the song “….Those were the days my friend, we thought they would never end” which the couple used to enjoy.
Though she could see the stars at the bar from a small distance, Usha says she was not allowed to sit with any of the customers as per the contract, a revelation which is unknown to many.
“In those days, if someone wanted to sing at a nightclub, she had to sign a contract at Lal Bazar (Kolkata Police Headquarters). In the contract, a clause was there which barred the singers from sitting with any of the customers. Another clause stated the singer can’t solicit,” she says.
Speaking about the change in the crowd after she had started singing at Trincas, Usha says, “Before my coming, the crowd comprised mainly men. But later it changed. With me as a singer, I think most wives were not insecure about their husbands (smiles). Actually there is a pre-conceived idea that cabaret means taking the clothes off and dancing.
Actually cabaret means a floor-show which I am. People have these misconceptions. Trincas is one of the trend-setters actually as far as nightclubbing goes. People just expected good, clean, wonderful entertainment. It slowly became a family place.”
Though Kolkata since late 1960s has witnessed a sea-change through different eras marking the Naxal movement, Communist rule and Mamata regime, an “optimist” Usha feels Park Street has remained the same except its “cosmetics”.
“I am a compulsive optimist. I don’t think the culture of whole of Kolkata has changed. The tradition of Kolkata, I feel, is not that fragile that it can be broken off in one night. Only the cosmetic changes in Trincas have come. I can hardly remember ladies wearing jeans those days. People are now much more casual,” she said, adding, “Park Street is still really the mecca of live music. The myth that good people don’t come to nightclubs has to be broken.”
After her stint with Trincas, Usha moved to Delhi where she met a film crew including late superstar Dev Anand who gave her an opportunity to do playback singing.
Marking her Bollywood debut, Usha ventured into the Hindi film industry through an English song from 1970 film Bombay Talkies and later blew people’s mind through Hare Rama Hare Krishna.
As her career progressed, the singer sang for music directors like RD Burman and Bappi Lahiri and also her voice could be heard in song “Darling” from Priyanka Chopra Jonas (then Priyanka Chopra) starrer 7 Khoon Maaf.
Even after becoming one of the successful singers in Bollywood, Usha still believes live music as something which can’t be “replicated”.
“The difference between live singing and playback singing is huge. The most amazing thing about live singing is that there is no second take. While in playback singing, one can take lots of takes to get it perfect. So for me, singing live is always much better….. The magic of the stage is different and can’t be replicated,” she says. (IBNS-TWF)