Namaskar bhaiyon aur behno, main aapka dost Ameen Sayani bol raha hoon,” the voice reeling out from large wooden boxes-like radio sets across the country’s living rooms, announced. It was a Wednesday from the summer of 1952, and a newly independent India heard, rapt in awe, a deep baritone with a touch of melody from Radio Ceylone. It joked with its audiences, teased them, gave interesting trivia, interviewed celebrities and punctuated it all with “filmi sangeet”, the kind that was taboo in most households of the time.
This was a sharp contrast to the “serious funeral like tone” of earlier announcers. The airwaves, the ones carrying Shamshad Begum’s mischievous Kahin pe nigahen kahin pe nishana and Lata Mangeshkar’s poignant Aayega aanewala were being transmitted from a tiny room in Colombo’s Central Telegraph Office for this 30-minute segment called Binacca Geet Mala, arguably India’s first countdown show. What began as a 30-minute programme turned into a rage in 1952 and continued for almost half a decade. First it was called Binaca Geetmala, then Hit Parade and finally Cibaca Geetmala which was how it was known for the longest time.
“I wanted each listener to feel that I was talking to them and it immediately struck a chord. It, surprisingly, even revolutionised radio presentation. I didn’t expect it to become a phenomena in the coming years. They were such fantastic times. It was my romance with Radio Ceylon,” says 83-year-old Sayani in a telephone conversation from Mumbai. He coughs a little, but not for a moment does that voice lose the warmth, that affability it carried for years.
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So when “the man with a golden voice” decides to return to radio for a second innings, it seems like a time for a much-needed recap. Sayani can now be heard on Radio City 91.1 FM on every Sunday afternoon in a show called Sitaron ki Jawaaniyaan, for which he has tweaked some of his old interviews and is presenting them with added research and more information. “As one grows older, one finds that the current creativity lacks the power and strength. The only way I could continue was by trying to revive my old interviews and put in a new lease of life into them,” says Sayani, who recently featured actors Pran and Meena Kumari in his show.
Back in the day Sayani’s presentation became a hit when All India Radio banned relaying of any Bollywood numbers. Radio Ceylon came as a breath of fresh air. It was also a medium for the promotion of simple Hindustani, something that connected with the people across the country. “It was a brilliant way of spreading the language and somehow also a means of national integration. People bonded over the show,” says Sayani. It was also information. So when he told the audience that Percy Montrose’s Oh my darling Clementine had become Ye hai Bombay meri jaan, everyone chuckled. “I was pointing out slight plagiarism but I never had issues with it. The songs had their own Indian flavour and composers had worked beautifully on those,” he says with a laugh.
Born in a family where literature and language was of paramount significance (his mother used to run a newsletter called Rehbar), Sayani was initiated into broadcasting by eminent English broadcaster and his brother Hamid Sayani. But he began with a style that was far too loud. In fact when Sayan’s own wife Rama heard it, she asked her brother to switch off the radio. “It is a style people still copy and sometimes it’s quite annoying. I realised I was in a closed medium and did not need to do any dhoom-dhadaam. I changed my style to bol-chaal ki bhasha and people really liked it,” says Sayani.
One of the segments Lata Se Darte Darte, where he asked Mangeshkar about difficult questions dealing with royalty issues with Mohammad Rafi and marriage garnered much attention. It still remains one of his favourites. “That was a toughie,” sighs Sayani, who still considers the show with Kishore Kumar as his favourite, despite not being in it.
“I had a hard time getting him into the studio. He would sing when we would go out, say things like Kishore ko muft mein gavaoge tum? We all would laugh. But he would just not come to the studio. When he began his production company, he was in the building. One day I told my boys to bring him and told him that we won’t let him go. He stayed on and did the entire show on his own,” says Sayani.
As the grand old man of radio steps out of the curtains of nostalgia, to make another appearance, we will be tuning in.