Let us rewind to the year 1966:
The swashbuckler romance ‘Suraj’ starring Rajendra Kumar and Vyjayantimala was released and apart from becoming the second highest grosser of that year the film also turned out to be a musical blockbuster. All the songs composed by the genius duo of Shankar-Jaikishen- became chartbusters.
However one particular song- ‘Titli udi, ud jo chali, phool ne kaha aaja mere paas, titli kahe main chali akash…’-sung by newcomer Sharda, not only became a sensational hit but also resulted in bringing about a major change in the awards scenario awards that year as well as all the subsequent years after that…
…From the year 1959 to 1966, the award for ‘Best playback singer’ went either to a male or a female playback singer depending on the votes they received. But in 1966 this song by the newcomer became so popular that it garnered the same number of votes as Mohammed Rafi’s ‘Baharon Phool Barsao…’ from the same film…
…The awards committee of Filmfare not only decided to make an exception that year by giving a special ‘Best Playback Singer’ award to the newcomer also along with Rafi Saab, but also decided to introduce separate awards for the ‘Best male playback singer’ and the ‘Best female playback singer’ from the next year onward…
Both the newcomer and her song took the industry by surprise because the female playback scene at that time was dominated by Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle and for Sharda to have offered them such a tough competition and also emerge a winner seemed unbelievable!
Indeed all the playback singers of the industry must be thankful to Sharda for bringing about this revolutionary change and doing them a favour albeit inadvertently!!!
Here is another beautiful song from the same film and one of my absolute favourites! Sharda’s voice lends a haunting touch to the song and the use of the instrument ‘sitar’ here is awesome!
Dekho mera dil machal gaya
Sharda Rajan Iyengar was born into a middle-class south Indian family and ironically she grew up in a house which did not even have a radio. She would pick up songs by listening to the radio in her friend’s place or outside wherever it was played loudly and then come home and sing the songs she had heard. Realizing her keen interest in music her mother engaged a tutor to train her in basic Carnatic music which was customary at that time in many south-Indian families.
She then started singing film songs in friends’ parties and small public gatherings. Meanwhile her family shifted to Iran and as destiny would have it, it was during one such singing session at the party of Shrichand Ahuja-a famous distributor of Hindi cinema, her song was heard by none other than showman Raj Kapoor himself! So impressed was he with her voice that he asked her to come to Bombay for ‘voice testing’ and try her luck in the film industry. Unlike today’s scenario where voice can be manipulated digitally, those days voice testing over the microphone with the live orchestra was mandatory).
Back in India, when she landed at the famed RK Studios, Bombay, she sang a few songs in front of Raj Kapoor’s whole family who had gathered there and they all gave their approval immediately. She was then sent to his music directors Shankar-Jaikishen for voice training as she had not had much professional experience earlier. A music tutor was arranged for her to train her in basic ragas, correct diction, microphone singing, controlling breath, etc.
Raj Kapoor then assured her that he would make her sing under his banner. Her training lasted for almost a year. She was fortunate to have been the protégé of the most popular music director duo of the time and hence got to sing many good songs which were picturized on many top actresses of the era like Vyjayanthimala, Mumtaz, Nanda, Saira Banu, Sharmila Tagore, Babita as well as new talents like Rajashree, Rekha and Hema Malini. She also sang some great foot-tapping numbers for the dancing diva Helen.
‘Aapke peeche pad gayi main… ‘ (Ek Naari Ek Brahmachari)
‘Le ja le ja le ja mera dil…’ (An Evening In Paris)
‘SunSun Sun re balam dil tujhko pukare…’ (Pyaar Mohabbat)
‘Tum pyar se dekho…’ (Sapnon ka saudagar)
‘Chale jaana zara thehro…’(Around the world in eight dollars)
‘Albele sanam tu laaya hai kahaan…’(Naina)
‘Aap ki rai mere barey mein…’ (Elaan)
‘Jaane anjaane yahan sabhi hain deewane…’
SONGS WITH OTHER SINGERS:
Sharda also sang duets with the top singers of that time. And sometimes with more than two singers also:
With Kishore Kumar
Jaane mujhe tune kya cheez pila di…
With Mohd Rafi
Jaane chaman shola badan…
‘Jab bhi yeh dil udaas hota hai…’ (Seema)
In the above song though she gets to only hum a few lines it is difficult to imagine the song without her lines.
‘Duniya ki sair kar lo….’(Around The World In Eight Dollars)
With Mukesh and Suman Kalyanpur-
‘Woh pari kahan se laon…’(Pehchaan)
With Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhonsle-
‘Masti aur jawaani ho…’(Dil Daulat Duniya)
A SHORT CAREER:
For the next four years she managed to sing a variety of songs and many of them became popular and are remembered by her fans even today. She was nominated for Filmfare awards consecutively for the next four years and won her second award in 1971 for the song ‘Baat zara hai aapas ki…’, a cabaret number picturized on Helen.
A TOUGH BATTLE:
Sharda entered at a time when established and experienced playback singers of the golden era were at their peak and shared a good rapport with the music directors and actors which made it very difficult for a newcomer with a different voice to penetrate the system and find easy acceptance.
She has stated in an interview (YouTube link of the interview at the end of this blog) the hostility she faced from certain sections of the industry. Though Raj Kapoor had promised to take her and even recorded songs for his films Mera Naam Joker and Kal Aaj aur Kal, these songs were never included in the film. Her solo numbers from Diwana and Gumnaam also were removed from the respective films.
Kal Aaj aur Kal
She alleges that her albums were removed from the market and efforts were made to suppress her popularity and almost ‘bury her alive’! In spite of this atmosphere, almost all the songs she sang hit the marquee and are remembered by her fans even today. According to her, rumours and false stories were spread to the press about her ‘alleged’ proximity to music director Shankar of the Shankar-Jaikishen duo to show her character in a bad light. People even went to the extent of saying that for Shankar ‘Love was not only blind but also deaf’ otherwise how could he tolerate such a ‘besuri’ (one who cannot sing in tune)!
People say that the past is past and cannot be undone. But for Sharda the digital revolution came as a boon to revive past memories and all her songs came back once again. She feels it to be nothing short of divine intervention that today all her songs are available for all her fans on YouTube and can be heard without restriction.
She also found a lot of appreciation through her stage shows and her fan base increased because of that.
SHARDA AS MUSIC DIRECTOR:
All these power games made her disillusioned and being young and new to the industry politics, she gave up singing and turned for a while to music direction…
Her one year training with Shankar-Jaikishen had given her enough confidence to start composing songs as a music director. Top singers like Mohd Rafi and Kishore Kumar sang to the tunes composed by her. In fact her song ‘Achcha hi hua dil toot gaya…’ from the film ‘Ma Behen aur Biwi’ fetched Rafi Saab a Filmfare nomination- an admirable feat indeed!
She has pleasant memories of singing duets with these giants and treasures the incredible humility of Rafi Sahb and the fun element of Kishoreda during recording sessions as a co-singer as well as a music director. Here is one of her lovely compositions sung by Kishore Kumar…
Andhe safar mein hum bhi tum bhi jeevan ki rahen lambi
In today’s music scenario scores of newcomers with all kinds of voices are getting an opportunity to sing. But back in the sixties that was not the case and Sharda arrived with a completely new voice from the ones dominating the playback scene. Unlike Suman Kalyanpur who had a voice very similar to Lata Mangeshkar, Sharda’s voice was unique.
Though Sharda did not sing too many songs her body of work stands out. She will also be remembered as the singer who had the guts to put up a struggle against the domination of the Mangeshkar sisters-Lata and Asha. Not only was she nominated four times but also won the award twice which seems an unbelievable achievement!!!
Information about her is available on her own website titled www.titliudi.com
Here is Sharda’s interesting interview and it is certainly worth watching: