Pavitra Sundar.

“Usha Uthup and her Husky, Heavy Voice,” an essay by Assistant Professor of Literature Pavitra Sundar, was recently published in Indian Sound Cultures, Indian Sound Citizenship from the University of Michigan Press.

Edited by former Hamilton postdoctoral fellow Laura Brueck, Jacob Smith, and Neil Verma, all of Northwestern University, the volume bridges the interdisciplinary fields of sound studies and South Asian studies.

Sundar’s contribution focuses on the Indian jazz and pop diva Usha Uthup, who Sundar says “is as famous for her prowess as a singer as she is for the elaborate silk sarees (and ever-expanding bindis) she dons.”

In her essay, Sundar argues that the perceived “mismatch” between Uthup’s traditional, feminine look and her sexy voice allowed her to carve out a niche in the Indian music scene for four decades. That very disjuncture, Sundar says, prevented Uthup from finding fame as a Bollywood playback singer.

According to Sundar, despite Uthup’s voice being a good fit for the vamps or “bad girls” of Hindi cinema, she was never assigned those singing roles because “her voice could not be associated with anybody but her!”

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