Uthara, merely 10 and a National Award winner already!

  • Gautaman Bhaskaran, Hindustan Times, Chennai
  • Updated: Mar 26, 2015 11:39 IST

Little Uthara's win for her playback song at the National Awards reintroduces and reaffirms in a way the lost magic of melody in Indian film songs, particularly in Tamil cinema.

In the prevailing scenario where much of movie music has degenerated into sheer din conveyed through eminently forgettable words, Muthu Kumar's lyrics in Azhage Azhage, the song that Uthara sang in AL Vijay's moving film, Saivam, about vegetarianism and care for animals, take us back on a poignantly nostalgic trip.

Having grown up on the lyrics of such eminent poets as Kannadasan, Kalyanasundaram and Viswanathan Ramamurthy, this writer felt that Kumar's words echoed not just the beauty of the song, but the very beauty of the Tamil language. And what adds to the richness of Azhage Azhage is the touch of the classical.

Uthara's father, Unnikrishnan -- a renowned Carnatic vocalist himself and who was, in a strange coincidence, giving a concert in Thiruvarur (the birthplace of the Trinity of Carnatic Music), on Tuesday evening just when the National Awards were announced -- told this writer this morning that Uthara's rendering had a touch of the classical. She was learning Carnatic music from the illustrious teacher, Sudha Raja. "I fill in the blanks whenever I am in town," he said.

Listen to the song Azhage Azhage

Of course, Uthara has that spark in her, averred Kumar (winner of the Best Lyricist National Award), who spoke to this writer on Wednesday. One could write the most wonderful lyrics, but one needed a voice, a certain depth of feeling to convey them through the strains of music. Otherwise, no song could remain with you, he averred.

Indeed, Uthara has this rare ability and certain clarity of thought which one found disarming. Her answers over the telephone were amazingly precise. "I am 10, but will turn 11 this June," she replied. "I am in class five and study in Lady Andal Venkatasubba Rao School," she said. Most people seldom say the full name. It is usually, Lady Andal School.

And, she did not find it hard to sing Azhage Azhage. "I practised it a couple of times, and then we recorded it." That looked like a walkover. But the song she later rendered for Mysskin's Pisasau -- Nadhi Pogum Koozhangal -- was tough. Why? "The beat was hard."

There can be harder times ahead for Uthara, for playback singing needs to be infused with emotional feeling conveyed through the actors on screen. But as her father said, music had been a part of his family. His son, older to Uthara, played the piano with considerable ease, and together the brother and sister were always humming songs from old Hindi and Tamil films. And with The Sound of Music completing 50 years now, the Unnikrishnans may well be the Von Trapps of Chennai.


Apart from Saivam, Uthara Unnikrishnan has also sung a song for Tamil film Pisasu.

However, every talent needs a discoverer -- and so many gifted boys and girls who may well be prodigies, never emerge from the shadows because nobody finds them. Uthara was lucky here. It was during one of those Kolus (during Dussera when people visit one another's homes to see a variety of dolls exhibited on several steps, and also sing songs) in music composer GV Prakash's house that Uthara hummed a tune. It caught the attention of his wife, Saindhavi, and months later when her husband was scouting for a child to deliver a song in Saivam, she suggested Uthara. Azhage Azhage was born out of that chance encounter, an evening at Kolu that led into sheer lyricism, into sheer music and into national recognition.

The Saivam song will undoubtedly be evergreen, and Uthara may well go on to transform from a prodigy to a legend.

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