Sharda’s debut song Titli Udi (Suraj, 1966) turned out to be her swan song in many ways. This despite several Filmfare nominations and a Best Female Playback Singer trophy for the cabaret number Baat Zara Hai (Jahan Pyar Miley, 1970). The track helped Sharda break the jinx of the awards being invariably won by the sisters, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, who ruled the roost in the 1960s.
Titli Udi is also noted for bifurcating the Best Playback Singer award into two categories to honour male and female playback singers for the first time. The popularity of Sharda’s solo matched with the votes received for Baharon Phool Barsao, a solo number in Suraj sung by Mohammed Rafi that won the award. Sharda was given a special Best Newcomer award in 1967.
Sharda Rajan was born in Tamil Nadu and grew up learning Sanskrit from her grandfather. She also enjoyed singing, but did not train in classical music. When she began performing, she decided to use only her first name on stage. During one of her stage performances in Tehran, she met actor-director Raj Kapoor, who asked her to meet him in Mumbai. Sharda gave her voice test at RK Studio, after which Kapoor introduced her to music composers Shankar-Jaikishan.
Shankar groomed Sharda, although Jaikishan reportedly did not share the same opinion about her untrained voice. The first song they recorded with her, Aayega Kaun Yahan in Gumnaam (1965), was not used in the film. The composers reintroduced her with two songs in Suraj, Dekho Mera Dil Machal Gaya, filmed on the leading heroine, Vyjayanthimala, and Titli Udi filmed on Vyjayanthimala and Mumtaz.
It is clear from the texture of Sharda’s voice in Dekho Mera Dil Machal Gaya that it is unpolished and ill-suited for the composition of the mature love ballad. The lighter notes of Titli Udi, which sound like a nursery rhyme, complimented her shrill and child-like tenor. Shailendra’s lyrics suited the appealing rhythm and melody.
Sharda began signing regularly for the composers in films such as An Evening in Paris (1967), Around The World (1967), Sapno Ka Saudagar (1968) and Kal Aaj Aur Kal (1971), but none of her songs attained the same degree of success.
In 1971, Sharda became the first Indian female singer to launch an album of pop songs called Sizzlers. She also sang for music directors Ravi, Usha Khanna, Iqbal Qureishi, N Dutta and Avinash Vyas in Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi and English songs.
Sharda then turned to music direction for such films as Garibi Hatao (1973), Mandir Masjid, (1977) and Maila Aanchal (1981). Her last recorded songs were for the film Kaanch Ki Deewar (1986).
Sharda staged a comeback in 2007 with the release of an album of poet Mirza Ghalib’s ghazals, called Andaaz-e-Bayaan Aur. Its poor reception sent her back into hibernation.