"Why do the female singers in Indian movies screech in this unnaturally high voice?"
I was a bit startled at this new perspective. I tend to think of Chitra and Janaki as just having "high pitched" voices.
"Really? You feel like they are screeching? Or do you just mean they have really high voices?"
"No, it really feels unnatural - this screeching effect. The men sound okay though."
After that conversation, while I was practicing for one of LTCA's music events, I really had to agree with my colleague. Some Tamil songs are sung at a C or D in terms of western scale. Depending on the female singer, it really does sound grating at times. I know I can't listen to certain S. Janaki numbers because it drives me up the wall! Female carnatic musicians sing at a G or G# utmost which happens to be the "normal" range for most women.
More recently, I was watching "Hariyudan Naan" on Jaya TV. One of the girls in the auditioned started singing a song in a lower scale. I thought she sounded fine. Harini (judge) asked her to raise it a couple of notches and we were back to the screeching cacophony. The girl struggled to hit her notes and she was deemed "unfit" for the next round.
How important is being able to sing at abnormally high pitches? Why do composers compose at such high scales? Is it to benefit the male voice which perhaps sounds best at that scale? In that case, it reeks of sexism. Is such an ability even the mark of a good singer? Why can't we sing in our "normal" voices?