Despite Sudha Malhotra being active for just around a decade in the field of playback singing, songs she rendered in her dulcet voice continue to remain fresh. During the 50s and 60s, she sang in films like Ab Dilli Door Nahin (1957), Dekh Kabira Roya (1957), Kala Pani(1958), Dhool Ka Phool (1959),Didi(1959), Girl Friend(1960), Barsat Ki Raat(1960), and Arzoo (1965). She was last heard in Raj Kapoor's Prem Rog (1982) rendering the song Yeh pyar tha ya kuch aur tha. She also sang many popular Marathi songs (Bhavgeet) with Arun Date. Awarded the Padma Shri by Government of India in 2013, she sang approximately 264 songs in 155 films.
Born in Delhi on 30 November, 1936 and raised in Lahore, Sudha Malhotra was the eldest among four siblings with three younger brothers. All the siblings were inclined towards music, and were encouraged by their parents. At the age of 6, Sudha got a chance to sing in a programme in front of Master Ghulam Hyder, along with his orchestra. She sangNoorjehan’s Tu kaun si badli me mere chaand hai aa ja from the film Khandaan(1942) which impressed Master Ghulam Haider to such an extent that he immediately prophesied that she would go on to earn name and fame in the forthcoming years. She started taking lessons from Deshbandhu Sethi ji in classical vocal while in Lahore and also started singing on All India radio. After Partition, when the family shifted to Delhi, she started learning from Pandit Amar Nath.
Her break came when composer Anil Biswas, who was her maternal uncle’s family friend, heard Sudha Malhotra sing. He was so impressed that he gave her a chance to sing in his film Aarzoo (1950). The song, a solo, Mila gaye nain was picturised on Shashikala. Sudha Malhotra was just 14 at the time. The song was highly appreciated by listeners, leading to many offers, for which she would travel to Bombay from Bhopal where her father was based at the time. Due to increasing work pressure, eventually she permanently shifted to Bombay.
Sudha Malhotra got the opportunity to sing under the baton of all the key composers of that era. Many of her songs like Mohabbat ki dhun beqararon se poochho (Dil-e-Nadan, 1953), Awaaz de raha hai koi aasmaan se (Gauhar, 1953), Ganga ki reti pe bangla uthwai de (Mirza Ghalib, 1954), Ghoonghat hataai ke nazrein milai ke (Rangeen Raatein, 1956), Maalik tere jahaan me (Ab Dilli Door Nahin, 1957), Mera jala raat bhar diya (Chamak Chandni, 1957), Sapnon ka chanda aaya (Mr X, 1957), Hum tumhaare hain zara ghar se nikal ke dekh lo (Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, 1958), Jaane kaisa jadoo kiya re (Parvarish, 1958), Dekho ji mera haal, badal gayi chaal (Solva Saal, 1958), Hat hat hat ja re natkhat piya (Swarn Sundari, 1958), Kaase kahoon mann ki baat (Dhool Ka Phool, 1959), San san san wo hawa chali (Kagaz Ke Phool, 1959) and Gham ki badli me chamakta…kal hamara hai (Kal Hamara Hai, 1959) were well appreciated by the masses.
Marrying into the Motwani family, the owners of famed Chicago Radio, saw Sudha Malhotra withdraw from playback singing. Her last recorded song was a duet with Mukesh, Tum mujhe bhool bhi jao to ye haq hai tumko for Didi (1959). Though the composer for this film was N Dutta, this particular song was composed by Sudha herself. Thus, her singing career which started at the age of 14 ultimately came to an end at the age of 23.
Post the release of Didi, previously recorded songs by Sudha Malhotra continued to release to a good response such as Kashti ka khamosh safar hai (Girlfriend, 1960), Salaam-e-hasrat qubool kar lo (Babar, 1960), Na mai dhan chahoon (Kala Bazar, 1960), Assalaam aalekum babu kaho kaisa haal hai (Kalpana, 1960), Alif zabar aa (Love In Simla, 1960), Ye haath hi apni daulat hai (Masoom, 1960), the famous qawwalis Ye ishq ishq hai and Ji chahta hai choom loon from the film Barsaat Ki Raat (1960), Jaane waale dekh le (Dekhi Teri Bambai, 1960), Jao ji jao badi shaan ke dikhaane waale (Razia Sultan, 1961), Sachche ka hai bolbala (Sachche Moti, 1962), Kadmon me shama ke parwaane (Kinare Kinare, 1963) and Hum bhi anjaan they (Mai Suhagan Hoon, 1964).
Apart from Anil Biswas, Sahir Ludhianvialso played an important role in shaping her singing career, writing some beautiful lyrics especially for her.
Even after leaving the film world, Sudha Malhotra kept her passion for music alive. She continued her riyaaz, gave stage performances and taught music. After a gap of 24 years, at the behest of Raj Kapoor, she sang a duet Ye pyaar tha ya kuchh aur tha with the singer Anwar in Raj Kapoor’s 1982 release Prem Rog, which is her last recorded playback song. Among her popular Marathi songs are Shukratara mandwara, Haat tuza haataat and Divas tujhe he fulayche, all duets with Arun Date.