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How Ameen Sayani Gifted Me the Love for Radio and Showed Compassion Wins the Day

What's overlooked is that the Hindi film industry owes a lot to Sayani for making movies an integral part of lives.

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His voice was a validation of his smile. We were young but even then, whenever the voice of Ameen Sayani resounded through the airwaves, we could discern that its owner was a man full of warmth and charm. No wonder he became the most loved radio anchor of the subcontinent since he brought forth not just a programme of delightful songs but also a great deal of cheer to Indians in the post-partition era.

However, it is strange that the best of critics, social analysts, broadcasters, and film stars refer to the doyen of radio as only a witty and engaging presenter on account of the long innings of his iconic radio programme Binaca Geetmala.

What is overlooked is that the Hindi film industry owes a huge debt to Ameen Sayani for making movies an integral part of the lives of citizens in India.
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Sayani Helped Revive Hindi Film Songs Among the Mass

For had it not been for Ameen Sayani and his Binaca Geetmala, probably millions would have lost track of the wonderful melodies of the Golden Era of Hindi Films, and though none can deny that the film melodies were creations of exquisite music, poetical verses, and spectacular singing, yet the songs could never have lasted in public memory if Sayani had not 'spun the turntables’ for Radio Ceylon!

It is pertinent to remember that Binaca Geetmala came at a time when film songs had been hounded away from the studios of All India Radio due to a diabolical diktat of one dogmatic, sanskari minister.
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Since the ban on film songs continued for a pretty long period on All India Radio, it is safe to presume that Hindi film songs would have died prematurely in public memory since their existence would have been confined to cinema halls and the private domains of the rich who had expensive record players.

That is why one has to laud the foresight and genius of Hamid Sayani, elder brother of Ameen, for conceptualising such a unique programme as well as pushing the young sibling into unknown waters!

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A Radio Jockey With a Magnetic Voice

Hindsight suggests that film songs became a rage across the whole of South Asia only because they were regularly broadcast via Radio Ceylon and since radios and transistors blared at every nook and corner, these songs became a part of India’s growing up years and stayed in everyone’s memory.

It is quite probable that if the songs had not been catered by the innovative Ameen Sayani, despite all their musical brilliance, the melodies may never have had reruns nor made millions swoon in delight. In fact, like the fabled Pied Piper, Ameen Sayani hooked listeners and led them onto a delightful song parade every Wednesday evening!

It is granted that up to the 1970s, most people had time to sit back, listen, and ponder. Yet, it cannot be taken away from Ameen Sayani that his voice captivated attention like no other anchor.

Umpteen number of other radio jockeys were also blessed with wonderful, broadcasting voices but, in spite of their immaculate expressions and inflections, they could not 'breathe’ the warmth, the happiness, or the joie-de-vivre into the microphone as Ameen Sayani did so eloquently.

If he connected with his “Behno aur Bhaiyyon” instantly with his “Adaab and Namaskar”, it was because charm was an intrinsic part of his persona and it was conveyed by him with perfect sincerity to all his listeners.
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If John Arlott of BBC Radio’s "Test Match Special" was recognised as the "Voice of Cricket”, Alan David McGilvray of ABC as "Australia’s ‘Bradman’ of the Commentary Box” and Melville D’Mellow earned the sobriquet of the “Iconic Voice of All India Radio”, Ameen Sayani was nicknamed the “Star Entertainer” ; someone who wrote the rules of the game with his common sense and understanding of the public taste.

Having been a long-standing admirer and listener of these great speakers, my experience reveals that anchors who "speak with audiences” generally win the instant approval of the masses rather than those that pontificate or “talk to the listeners”. And therein lies a subtle difference!
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Weaving Words With Melodies

Unlike television where everything is stark 'naked’ and nothing is left to imagination, radio evokes wonder, gives wings to imagination, and promotes mystique about a subject.

Hence, only “master storytellers” succeed on radio and if millions worshipped Arlott for his poetical and philosophical verses to define cricket proceedings, Mcgilvray was loved for his succinct and incisive metaphors and D’Mellow was admired for lacing historical extravaganza into his narratives. Like them, Ameen Sayani too was a pioneer and can be credited for introducing the conversational style wherein he shared not just anecdotes about the filmdom but also addressed pertinent questions from the letters sent by his devoted listeners.

This intimate dialogue earned him immense gratitude and affection for the people besides, of course, heightening the suspense about the impending songs.
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In that laid-back, leisurely era, Ameen Sayani was an exceptional raconteur on the radio who shared his “Garland of Songs” (Geetmala) with an entire subcontinent that awaited the list of hit-songs with bated breath.

Like all good speakers, Sayani knew his pauses and punctuations perfectly and if he kept listeners gleefully hooked for decades, it is a significant pointer of his skill, the genius of his creativity also the reason why he became such a successful brand on his own! No wonder, he inspired and entertained millions of people and broadcasters alike across the country, though none attained his stature and popularity.

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Sayani’s Kindness and Warmth Were His Greatest Gifts

I had two interactions with Ameen Sayani in my life but despite a gap of three decades, his liveliness, charm, and cheerfulness remained the same.

The only difference from the 1980s to the last meeting around mid-2017 was that he had gone weak in physique. Yet his voice and smile retained the same Midas touch to catch your ears immediately.

On the first occasion, the meeting happened in his office near Regal Cinema in Colaba, Mumbai where I went with a wish to collaborate with him since I was a seasoned radio and television anchor at that time. He offered me tea and appreciated my voice (after a patient listening to my cassette tape that contained audio bits from my radio/tv programmes) but was forthright in stating that he could do little as I was not living in Bombay.

However, what remained vivid was the warmth and the encouragement that he showered despite the fact that I had barged in without a prior appointment. In fact, on more occasions than one, he emphasised that he would have been happy to utilise my services had I been living in the metropolis and that I should not feel disheartened in any way.
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Decades later, we met at a party hosted by a mutual friend. Sayani was in a wheelchair but was all ears to everything happening around him.

After I reminded him of our past meeting, we shared notes about our personal domains which revealed that like me, he too was besotted with his parents whom he held in high reverence along with his elder brother Hamid.

As our conversation veered towards topics like communal polarisation, which I felt was akin to pre-partition times, Ameen Sayani sighed, clasped my hand, and said, “Son, I hope we do not see that kind of pain ever again.”

I could feel the sincerity in his touch as well as his voice while his eyes laid bare in transparent honesty.

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Such tender moments define the character of a person. It was apparent that the sons of Kulsoom and Jan Mohammad Sayani did not want India to suffer another period of agony and wished all citizens would live in harmony. His affinity for non-violence, both in word and action, could be felt in his touch, though it was much later that I came to know that he adhered to Gandhian ideals since his mother had worked in close association with the Mahatma.

That brief interaction still lingers in memory. And while we did converse about films, lyrics, composers, singers as well as diction, intonation, and pitch, what has remained in memory is only the charming smile and that friendly clasp which spoke louder than all of Ameen Sayani’s words.

(Deepak Mahaan is a documentary filmmaker and an eminent author. A specialist on Cinema and Sports, he has published numerous pieces in prestigious publications in India and abroad. He tweets at @mahaanmahan. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Hindi films   all india radio   Radio 

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