Usha Uthup – transcending borders and generations

Celebrating the 71st anniversary of India’s independence, Indians everywhere came together to proudly commemorate this important moment in their history.

Those who were lucky enough to be in Colombo on 15 August, had the pleasure of experiencing Symphony of Freedom, a musical extravaganza by renowned Bollywood playback singer Usha Uthup, at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH).

Entrance was by invitation only; the hall was jam-packed with Indian nationals, Sri Lankans and Bollywood enthusiasts.

The event was put together courtesy of the Indian High Commission in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Ministry of Higher Education and Cultural Affairs, Lanka Ashok Leyland PLC and the India-Sri Lanka Foundation, with the former speaker Karu Jayasuriya in attendance as the Chief Guest for the night, accompanied by Chandrika Kumaratunga and Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe.

The High Commissioner of India, Taranjit Singh Sandhu welcomed the audience and added some sincere words of encouragement to the youth of the two nations.

“We are both relatively young countries, and the youth have the greatest potential to change the course of human history,” he said, dedicating the event to the youth of both countries.

The High Commissioner went on to invite the star attraction of the night, the wonderful Usha Uthup, who despite her age of nearly 70 years, radiated with a mesmerising stage presence.

Usha Uthup was a real wonder to witness, even for those who were unfamiliar with her ever expanding repertoire; Usha made the audience feel as though they were, in fact, watching their own favourite artiste, performing their own personally preferred flavour of art.

She was wonderfully gracious about having been given the opportunity to perform “in the beautiful city of Colombo”,  admitting that she was “terribly, terribly nervous” and that she hoped we all liked her choice of outfit for the night, a stunning saree.

Usha was delightfully energetic in her performances, the first half of which was dedicated to more of Western music and songs that were widely popular, including a hypnotic performance of ‘Skyfall’.

Her rendition of ‘Piya Tu Ab To Aaja’ was an instant hit with the audience, during which she made an open call for “a lovely Sri Lankan girl” to come up on stage with her. The brave, yet lucky lady who got an opportunity of a lifetime, danced and sang along with Usha Uthup for the remainder of the song and exited gracefully in absolute glee.

As the night progressed, Usha’s powerful voice held the audience entranced; her youthful energy and mischievous persona added all the more colour to it all.

Between sets, Usha took the time to address the audience, to share with them various anecdotes about her life, even admitting that, having grown up listening to Radio Ceylon, whenever she got a chance to perform in Sri Lanka, it felt “like coming back home”.  

Deeply in tune with her surroundings, it was very clear that Usha was dedicated to giving a quality performance and the best possible experience to her audience.  At one point, she even halted her own routine to ensure that an unnecessary bass sound wasn’t emitting from the microphone.

Her modest nature set the audience at ease from the get-go; despite being a hugely successful Bollywood artiste, having won herself a Filmfare Award for Best Female Playback Singer and the highly coveted civilian award presented by the Indian Government, the Padma Shri, she projected the image of a genuine human being, truly grateful to be here, and having an equally good time as the rest of us.

Bollywood music is acutely rooted in Lankan DNA. It’s similar to our own Sri Lankan style of music and it has had a significant influence on our music and film industry as a whole.

Usha Uthup is the living embodiment of Indian music, years past and years to come. Having survived a famously superfluous industry for over 50 years, she speaks to the youth in a way that many modern artistes are unable to. Her melody speaks a universal language transcending borders and nationalities, which perfectly embodied the theme of the night – cultural unity and empowerment of youth for a peaceful and unified future.

As the night grew nearer to a close, keeping true to who she is, Usha Uthup ended with a flawless performance – something that many in attendance would certainly cherish and hold dear.


Review by Dimithri Wijesinghe

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