Ameen Sayani: The father of radio entertainment in the Indian subcontinent

Since his was the only hit parade of its kind for at least two and half decades, Sayani became a formidable name within the Hindi cinema industry.

Mayank Chhaya Feb 21, 2024
Ameen Sayani

For the first two decades of my life, daily popular entertainment meant the radio and the radio meant Ameen Sayani. Even as an 11-year-old, when I first heard his iconic hit parade Binaca Geetmala, I knew that Sayani was a real human being in flesh and blood. However, the thought that he could just as well be radio waves strangely exhilarated me.

“Agali paaydaan” (the next step/song) and “Choti ka bigul (bugle call to herald the top song of the week), his two signature catchphrases, became the defining words of the 1960s and 70s for me and millions of others.

Thirteen years after I first heard his effusive exhortations out of Radio Ceylon, I met Ameen Sayani at his office in Bombay in 1985 as a journalist. “For a long time, I liked to amuse myself by thinking that you were radio waves and not a real person,” was my first observation to Sayani. He laughed, stretched out his hand and said, “Let’s shake hands so you know I am real.”

It was a strangely disembodied experience to hear someone in person sound exactly like he or she did on the radio. It took a moment or two to orient myself to corporeally fit Sayan’s person to his captivating voice.

'Golden period' of cinema music

During a two-plus hour interview with him without a tape recorder, I managed to jot down several of his answers and observations. One of those observations has stayed in my mind through the decades. “I started Binaca Geetmala in 1952 which was the beginning of the so-called golden period of Hindi cinema music. Of course, there were extraordinary songs before that as well. However, what gave the music of the 1950s, 60s and 70s was that giant composers of the era were standing on the shoulders of even bigger names of the late 1930s and 40s. I had the great fortune to live among these giants,” he said.

Sayani was the father of radio entertainment in India barely five years after the country became independent. He may not have consciously intended it that way, but his weekly hit parade every Wednesday became emblematic of a new India that is Bharat taking confident strides as a nation-state. Songs such as “Insaaf Ki Dagar Pe” from ‘Ganga Jamuna’ (1961) and “Nanha Munna Rahi Hoon” from ‘Son of India’ (1962), both big hits on Binaca, became, in Sayani’s presentation, a call to the country’s youth to rise above themselves.

Since these two songs were/are two of my all-time favorites, I asked Sayani whether he felt anything special introducing them. “Aksar rongte khade ho jaate they. (I often get goosebumps.) I feel that even now when I look back,” he replied.

As the nation’s most recognizable voice, it was natural that Sayani had strange effects on people he met in person. “More often than not people would look at me twice, thrice to come to terms with the fact that I was indeed that voice,” he said. Since much of his success rode the radio waves, visual recognition came rather late for him. “I was very happy that my voice was so much more famous than my face,” he said.

During my only interview with him, we discussed many themes, including whether his perch as the preeminent broadcaster gave him power over the fates of individual songs and composers. “Did you ever feel you could make or break composers or songs?” I asked him with a measure of effrontery. To his credit, he answered with his well-known civility, and that too in Gujarati initially, switching to a bit of Hindi and then English, “Ema evun chhe, Mayank, Maine is tarah kabhi socha hi nahi. (The thing is that I never thought like that.) I saw myself and my show as a conduit for great music. Songs have their own destiny and I make no intervention.”

A formidable name in Hindi cinema

Ameen Sayani’s pioneering radio effusion, especially the way he intoned “Ji Haan, Behno Aur Bhaiyon, Main Hoon Aap Ka Dost, Ameen Sayani”, was the ultimate trendsetter that generations of radio jockeys have emulated in various ways, including even today.

Since his was the only hit parade of its kind for at least two and half decades, Sayani became a formidable name within the Hindi cinema industry. The legendary composer, Naushad once told this writer, “Ameenbhai ki mausiqi ki samajh mujhe herat angez karti hai. (I am amazed by Ameen Sayani’s understanding of his music.)

Add to that musical acuity his ability as a radio raconteur and it was no surprise that he became what he did. Initially, much better spoken in English than Hindi/Urdu Sayani said he worked very hard on his diction and vocabulary in the first year of his broadcasting career with the help of his broadcaster brother Hamid. “Once I got into the rhythm, it became my second nature,” he said.

An off-the-cuff question that I had asked him was about whether he liked his voice. “I think mine is an average voice embellished by a lot of effort,” he added.

The self-effacing man, who became a legend in his lifetime among an earlier generation of music lovers, died in Mumbai Tuesday night at the age of 91.

(The writer is a veteran journalist, author, music composer and filmmaker. Views are personal. He can be reached at mcsix@outlook.comm)

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