The only other female music director after Saraswati Devi, Uska Khanna was born in 1941 in Gwalior to lyricist Manohar Khanna. Though she had no formal training in music, she drew inspiration from Arabic music which she was very fond of. Her father regularly wrote ‘ghazals’ for Jaddanbai’s Nargis Art Production films, which was another of her early influences.
It was composer O.P.Nayar who introduced a young Usha to producer Sashadhar Mukherjee. When asked by the latter to sing a song for him, Usha sang a self composed number. Impressed, Mukherjee asked her to compose two songs each day for a year. He also signed her for his film “Dil Deke Dekho” (1959), which was a first of sorts for both Usha Khanna as a composer and Asha Parekh as an actress! The title song “Dil Deke Dekho” (1959) from the film went on to be come hugely popular, establishing her as a composer.
Though she had a great debut in the industry, the road ahead was not easy for Usha thereafter. The two 1964 films “Shabnam” (1964) and “Aao Pyar Karen” (1964) that she composed music for also enjoyed moderate success, especially with the number “Maine Rakha Hai Mohabbat” (“Shabnam”, 1964). All through the 1960s’ she was composing music for films like “Main Wohi Hoon” (1966), “Johar in Bombay” (1967), and “Mera Naam Johar” (1968).
She composed some of her best for Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhonsle, some memorable ones being “Aaj Ki Haseen Raat” (“Ek Raat”, 1967) for the latter and “Hum Tumse Juda Hokey” (“Ek Sapera Ek Lutera”, 1965). She bagged her maiden Filmfare award for Music Direction years later for “Souten” (1983). She often composed film for producer Saawan Kumar, whom she later married for a brief period. Though the two divorced after a while, she still composed music for his films, the latest being “Dil Pardesi Ho Gaya” (2003).