The strains of the Aziz Nazan qawwali travels out into the prison corridors: Chadhta suraj dheere dheere dhalta hai, dhal jayega. RJ Nilesh tells us that the song is one of the more common requests on his weekend show, broadcast from the Taloja Central Prison radio station (Radio TLCP) and meant for its 3,000 inmates. Nilesh, an inmate too, attests to the popularity of the radio. “People from cells where the speakers are not working have been complaining to the prison officials to fix them soon so that they can hear the radio. For most, it is the only thing to look forward to in the day,” says the undertrial in his late 30s, who was arrested in a cheating case.
The idea for starting the radio facility at Taloja came from current jail superintendent, Kaustubh Kurlekar, who had been posted at Yerwada prison, Pune, where Maharashtra’s first such radio station was started. “I thought the idea could work here, too. We only had to get the equipment and identify the people to run it,” Kurlekar says. According to senior prison officers, all nine central prisons across the state have an in-house radio or are in the process of getting one.
The Taloja prison mainly houses undertrials and convicts serving a maximum five-year prison term. Its radio station started in January. The radio runs for one hour, Monday to Friday. Song requests are played on Saturday and Sunday and the show then extends till 1.30 pm.
One of TLCP’s main hosts is Yatin, 39, who also goes by the name RJ Himanshu. “He told us that he had worked as a programmer with a TV channel known for comedy programmes. He is a good mimic too,” says senior jailer Eknath Shinde.
Yatin was given the task of “spicing up” things on the radio station that initially had mainly devotional and inspirational content. “If we keep talking about motivational things. inmates will get bored. Yahan khaane mein masala nahin hai to logon ko sunne mein to kuch masala chahiye (Prison food is so bland. At least the music should have spice,” says Yatin, who was arrested in a case of domestic violence and is under trial.
One of Yatin’s more popular programmes is Mi Baburau Bolto, where he play-acts episodes based on the famous character played by Paresh Rawal in Hera Pheri (2000). “In the latest episode, Baburao Apte is released on parole. He goes to attend a relative’s wedding and gets drunk. The show is about him recounting what happens then,” says Yatin.
Sometimes, the prison authorities ask the RJs to create programmes on particular themes. “We observed that a number of young inmates would end up in prison again and again. So we asked them to do a programme on repeat offenders,”says Shinde.
Nilesh, who writes poetry and had approached Shinde for a place in the radio team, says it took them two hours to come up with the show, Ab Bas Bhi Karon Yaaron. “In the programme, we talk about how life is beautiful. Every morning, you wake up with people who love you, eat the breakfast of your choice, meet friends. Then we point out that all this can only happen when you are not behind bars,” he says.
The team, comprising RJs Yatin, Nilesh, and Akshay, is also planning to start a quiz show, which, they say, is a much humbler version of Kaun Banega Crorepati. “The winner will receive biscuits. Don’t underestimate the value of a cream biscuit packet behind bars,” says Yatin.
Some inmates are also eager to perform. “An Adivasi boy wanted to recite a song he had composed in his language. There is also a rapper in Barrack Two, who wants to perform. We are working out how to do it as it would require some beats as well. With the equipment we have, we have done well. Prison teaches you to do the most with the resources at hand,” says Nilesh.
The prison authorities say the radio station has made a difference. “Earlier, the smallest of things would lead to fights between inmates. Now, there is the right kind of energy, from the time they wake up,” Shinde says.
This article appeared in print with the headline: Behind Bars, a New Beat