Ameen Sayani who brought music to a million lives, dies at 91 | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Ameen Sayani who brought music to a million lives, dies at 91

Feb 22, 2024 06:46 AM IST

The inaugural show, billing seven popular Hindi film songs, became so popular that Sayani’s Colaba office was soon flooded with postcards—over 65,000 in the first year—from listeners across the country asking for more

Mumbai: Ameen Sayani, whose voice launched a radio revolution in India, died at a Mumbai hospital late on Tuesday night. The legendary broadcaster, 91, had been ailing for over a year.

New Delhi, Feb 21 (ANI): Union Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri posted this picture on his X account expressing grief over the demise of legendary radio personality Ameen Sayani, who passed away at the age of 91 due to a heart attack, on Wednesday. (ANI Photo) (Hardeep Singh Puri-X)
New Delhi, Feb 21 (ANI): Union Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri posted this picture on his X account expressing grief over the demise of legendary radio personality Ameen Sayani, who passed away at the age of 91 due to a heart attack, on Wednesday. (ANI Photo) (Hardeep Singh Puri-X)

Sayani, who had been trained in broadcasting and theatre by his elder brother, the equally illustrious Hamid, became a cult figure with India’s first countdown show, Binaca Geetmala. The show launched in 1952 had an uninterrupted run until 1994, with Sayani as its weekly host. His was the perfect radio style--the chummy, intimate ‘behnon aur bhaiyon’ became an instantly-recognised salutation across the country. Sayani ignored the purists and developed a Urdu and Hindi syntax that closely resembled the spoken language of the Hindi film industry of the 1950s and the 1960s. He skilfully wove in words like ‘paaydaan’ (a ladder step), ‘sartaj’ and ‘baharhaal’ into his scripts—all of which were then widely used in cinema.

“I wanted to speak in a language which the common man would understand and relate to. I chose Hindustani. After all, language is a pact between the speaker and the listener,” Sayani had once told this reporter. He used the show to democratise the medium and nurture popular taste. The year Binaca Geetmala was launched was also the year that Nehru won India’s first general election and appointed Balkrishna Keskar as Information and Broadcasting minister. A man of great whimsy and puritanical streak, Kesarkar briefly banned cricket commentary on All India Radio and also Hindi film music, which he believed did great disservice to classical music. Kesarkar’s disastrous decision became the biggest boon for Sayani. An American entrepreneur Daniel Molina set up a company to produce programmes for Radio Ceylon, and he hired the two Sayani brothers.

The launch of Binaca Geetmala also coincided with the high noon of Hindi film music. Exquisite songs in films like Anarkali, Awara, Naya Daur, Guide, Paying Guest to name but a few, scored by maestros like Naushad Ali, Shankar-Jaikishan, C Ramchandra, SD Burman, Roshan, Madan Mohan among others, provided the sound track to the story of a new nation. Business on Bombay’s streets would come to a standstill when the signature tune of the Binaca Geetmala started and Ameen Sayani’s baritone reverberated on the radio, recalls music collector Vinayak Ponkshe.

The inaugural show, billing seven popular Hindi film songs, became so popular that Sayani’s Colaba office was soon flooded with postcards—over 65,000 in the first year—from listeners across the country asking for more. Within the first year, the song tally was taken up to 16. The popularity of the show ensured that the countdown was produced only after due research, Sayani had once revealed. “We would get sales reports from record companies, record store owners and listeners’ clubs across the country to ensure the show’s credibility and authenticity. This meant lot of paperwork,” he had said.

A decade of sustained popularity of Radio Ceylon’s programmes led to a rethink in the I&B ministry and resulted in the launch of Vividh Bharati to cater to popular tastes, says film music expert Prakash Joshi. Once again, the star of the new channel was the Geetmala, hosted by Ameen Sayani. “The show transcended caste and creed and truly symbolised India’s pluralistic culture,” says Joshi. “With the countdown serving as a leitmotif, Sayanisaab scripted modern India’s mainstream cultural narrative,” says Isshaa Mahmood, the daughter-in-law of singer Talat Mahmood, many of whose songs featured on the Geetmala over the years.

Sayani’s son Rajil had recounted in an earlier interview that Sayani was paid a weekly remuneration of 25 when the show began, and which he took up only at the prodding of his brother Hamid who hosted his own countdown of English music.

It was Hamid Sayani, gifted with a mellifluous voice, who introduced his kid brother when he was only 9, to the magical world of radio when he took him to the All India Radio station in Bombay to participate in a children’s quiz show.

Impressed by the young boy’s ability to adapt to the recording technique, the producer of the quiz show decided to get the boy on board for a weekly children’s show called ‘Phulwari’. The young Sayani was paid with a tin of Ovaltine for his labour.

Sayani sometimes sought to play down his fame. Weaned on a diet of high literature, his foray into popular culture, he said sometimes embarrassed him “My parents were staunch Gandhians. My mother had taken part in the Quit India movement and she regularly wrote for the newspapers. We were surrounded by books and Hamidbhai did English theatre, where he worked with the likes of Adi Murzban, Alyque Padamsee and Ibrahim Elkazi. And here I was, doing a radio show for the laity…” he once said. He had also revealed that other than hosting the Binaca Geetmala, his other task was to ensure that the spool would be flown to flown to Colombo every Saturday, three days before the show’s deadline.

In later years Sayani expanded his repertoire to other shows like Bournvita Quiz Contest, S Kumar Ka Filmi Muqaddama and other interview-based radio programmes. He even did a cameo in the 1964 film Bhoot Bangla. He remained, until the end, the sartaj of all radio hosts.

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