Playback singer Sharda Iyengar Rajan is known for films such as An Evening in Paris (1967), Around The World (1967), Sapno Ka Saudagar (1968) and Kal Aaj Aur Kal (1971). Her song Titli udi ud jo chali from Suraj (1966) became very popular and also won many awards, as did her song Baat zara hai apas ki from the film Jahaan Pyaar Mile (1969). Groomed and presented by famous music director duo Shankar-Jaikishan, she also sang under music directors such as Ravi, Usha Khanna, Iqbal Qureishi, N Dutta, Avinash Vyas and many others. Rendering songs in Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi and English, besides Hindi, she also scored the music for films such as Mandir Masjid (1977) Garibi Hatao (1973), Maila Aanchal (1981), and Kshitij (1974).
She was born on 25 October, 1937 into an Iyengar family of Tamil Nadu. Acquiring training in Sanskrit and Vedic culture from her grandfather, an esteemed scholar in these subjects, she was drawn towards music from her early childhood itself. Performing at school and other functions, she enjoyed singing but did not train in classical music. When she began performing, she decided on using only her first name on stage. During one of her stage performances in Tehran, she happened to meet actor-director Raj Kapoor, in whose presence she sang. Impressed by her voice, Kapoor offered her the opportunity to audition and sing for his films. After giving her voice test at R K Studios, Sharda was sent on to the famous music duo Shankar-Jaikishan. The composer duo, a regular for all RK films, groomed her untrained voice and worked on presenting her in a befitting manner.
The first song they recorded with her was Aayega kaun yahan in Gumnaam (1965); however, it was not used in the film. The composer duo reintroduced her with two songs in the film Suraj, namely Dekho mera dil machal gaya, which was filmed on the lead heroine, Vyjayanthimala, and Titli udi filmed on Vyjayanthimala and Mumtaz. While Sharda’s unpolished voice in Dekho mera dil machal gaya did not do full justice for the mature love ballad, her childish tones were well-suited to Titli udi, matching the song’s rhythm and melody.
Sharda’s song Titli udi brought her considerable fame. It turned out to be a top chartbuster in 1966. She won several awards for the film, including the prestigious Filmfare Award. The track also helped her break the jinx of leading awards being invariably won by the sisters, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, who reigned supreme in the 1960s. Sharda also made history of sorts with Titli udi. The popularity of her song led to the branching out of the Best Playback Singer award into two categories to honour male and female playback singers. Sharda’s well-loved solo matched the popularity of the Mohammed Rafi-rendered song Baharon phool barsao in Suraj. Sharda was given a special Best Newcomer award in 1967.
Sharda picked up another Filmfare Award for her cabaret number Baat zara hai apas ki from the 1969 film Jahaan Pyaar Mile. In fact, she earned nominations for her songs for three consecutive years.She went on to sing in many films under the Shankar-Jaikishan baton, such as Around The World (1967), Suraj (1966), Gumnaam (1965), Pyar Mohabbat (1966), Shatranj (1969), An Evening in Paris (1967), Gunahon Ka Devta (1967), Sapnon Ka Saudagar (1968), Ek Naari Ek Brahmachaari (1971) and many others. Thereafter she continued singing for Shankar in most of his films, until his death. Her voice was last heard in films in Kaanch Ki Deewar (1986).
Sharda’s other popular songs include Jaan e chaman shola badan, Masti aur jawani ho umar badi mastani ho, Jigar ka dard badhta ja raha hai, Leja leja leja mera dil, Chale jana zara thhahro, Tum pyar se dekho, Duniya ki sair kar lo, Woh pari kahan se laun, Kisike dil ko sanam, Jab bhi yeh dil udaas hota hai, Aap ki rai mere baare mein kya hai kahiye, Jane anjane yahan sabhi hain deewane, Jaane bhi de sanam mujhe, Man ke panchhi kaheen duur chal, and Wahi pyar ke khuda hum jin pe fida. She sang with most of the leading singers such as Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar, Yesudas, Mukesh and Suman Kalyanpur. She provided playback for the top leading ladies of the time like Vyjayanthimala, Sadhana, Saira Banu, Hema Malini, Sharmila Tagore, Mumtaz, Rekha and Helen.
Moving into the realm of music direction, Sharda composed music for films such as Mandir Masjid, Garibi Hatao, Maila Aanchal, Kshitij, and many others. Mohammed Rafi was nominated for the Filmfare Best Male Playback Singer Award for the song Achcha hi hua dil toot gaya from Maa Behen Aur Biwi (1973), which had been composed by Sharda. Under the name Singaar, she also penned the lyrics of the song Ek chehra jo dil ke kareeb for the film Garam Khoon (1980). The music was composed by Shankar, and the song was rendered by Lata Mangeshkar, and picturised on Sulakshana Pandit.Sharda also composed music in the non-film genre, with entertaining and educational fare for children. Sharda also became the first Indian female singer to launch an album of pop songs called Sizzlers in 1971, which was launched by HMV.
Sharda performed on stage on several occasions such as Filmfare Awards functions, charity shows, and naval functions. Though she did not make it to the top bracket of playback singers, Sharda did manage to carve a fan base of her own music listeners. She also went on to conduct music lessons for children and aspiring singers. In 2007, Sharda made a comeback with the release of an album titled Andaaz-e-Bayaan Aur. It featured her own compositions based on poet Mirza Ghalib’s ghazals.