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Behno aur bhaiyon main aapka dost Ameen Sayani bol raha hoon

Remembering the legendary broadcaster whose pioneering countdown Geetmala and inimitable voice ruled radio for over four decades

Late Indian Radio Announcer Ameen Sayani / Wikimedia Commons

Would you believe that when Ameen Sayani flagged off what was to become his trademark countdown programme on Radio Ceylon, he was paid just INR 25 (US$0.30) a week? 

Yes, as incredible as it sounds, it’s true, confirmed by the man himself. But despite the modest remuneration, he was happy that at least he was getting paid because, as he had revealed in an interview to Prasar Bharti, for his first real job on radio, he got nothing more than one tin of the health drink he was promoting on a radio singing contest, Cadbury’s Phulwari, a week.

He was just 20 at the time, but already a veteran in radio having started young. At the age of seven, he had tagged behind his brother, Hamid, to the Air India Radio Station in Bombay (now Mumbai). His bade bhai was a well-known broadcaster and amused by Ameen’s interest, he suggested the youngster record something at the studio. Ameen, who fancied himself as a singer, immediately rendered one of his favourite songs. The wire recording was played back to him. It was the first time he really heard his voice and he hated it.

Surprisingly, his brother thought he had potential, but not as a singer. Hamid started suggesting his name for child roles in radio plays. Groomed by his brother and guru, Ameen soon graduated to hosting children’s programmes and then music shows on radio. 

When the offer came from Radio Ceylon, Hamid urged him to take it up even though Ameen had schooled only in English and Gujarati and had been broadcasting in English till then. Having helped their mother with her fortnightly newspaper, Rahber, which was published in the Urdu, Gujarati and Devnagari script, he knew how to read and write Hindi and also spoke it. 

The response to this first-of-its-kind Bollywood film music programme in Hindi was overwhelming. “The first episode brought in almost 9,000 letters from listeners and the number kept growing to 60,000-70,000 a week,” he marveled.

After a year, the radio station, along with the sponsors, decided that the only way to check this Tsunami of mail was to make it a once-a-week hit parade of recently released Hindi film songs whose popularity would he gauged by the way they went up and down the charts, finally exiting to make way for a new entrant. 
Binaca Geetmala started in 1952 and continued on Radio Ceylon till 1988. In 1989, it shifted to the Vividh Bharati Service on the All-India Radio network and continued till 1994.

It was popular not just across the country and the Indian subcontinent, but all over Asia. And even when the name changed, from Binaca Geetmala to Cibaca Geetmala, Cihaca Geetmala and Colgate Cibaca Sangeetmala, the one voice that remained unchanged was that of Ameen Sayani.

He has been imitated by radio jockeys down the decades, but none of them enjoyed his popularity or longevity. From 1976, he pioneered the export of Indian radio shows and commercials in the US, Canada, New Zealand, the UAE, Eswatini, Mauritius, Fiji and South Africa. 
In a career spanning over six decades, he produced, compered and gave voice overs for 53,000 radio programmes and 19,000 spots and jingles, a feat that got him into the Limca Book of Records. He was also a winner of the prestigious 'Hindi Ratna.

Besides radio programmes, Ameen also hosted TV shows, he also compered over 2,000 musical stage shows, beauty contests, award nights, concerts, workshops, seminars, silver jubilee functions and international film festivals. He also did cameos in a few Bollywood films, starting with Mehmood’s horror comedy Bhoot Bangla and Dev Anand’s Teen Deviyan in 1965. 

His disappointment was that no one cast him in the lead though having interviewed many top-rated actors in shows like Filmi Mulaqaat, Mehekti Baatein, Sangeet Ke Sitaron Ki Mehfil, he imagined himself as a hero. “But I only got villainous roles,” he rued and finally agreed to play an announcer in films too.

From 1954 to 1993, his hit parade came up with annual year-end lists and the winners were interviewed. Top-rated stars and filmmakers, to lyricists, music directors and singers, it was easy for him to interview everyone, but Kishore Kumar. 

One year, all the year’s top singers from Geeta Dutt, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle to Talat Mehmood, Mukesh and Mohd. Rafi came to the studio. Only his college friend, Kishore Kumar, insisted Ameen come all the way to Andheri and record him at a shoot. However, when he reached there with a bulky tape recorder, he was met at the gate by the film’s producer who told him that Kishore Kumar would arrive only after he departed. Angry and humiliated, Ameen did not approach the singer for the next 18 years.

Finally, it was the singer who came to him and courted everyone, including his slightly miffed interviewer by putting three Kishore Kumar’s rom different ages-the child, the young man and a buddha-on the dock, to be questioned and sentenced by ‘judge’ Kishore who mimicked a popular villain of Hindi film, Tiwari, to question and sentence him. The show was a riot and cleared the air between the two friends.

Kishore Kumar continued to rule the charts till his untimely demise on October 13, 1987. Ameen Sayani was active till 2014. From a faceless voice on radio, he became a familiar face on the screen. With his genial personality, his old- world graciousness and that inimitable voice he regaled almost three generations of listeners and viewers. 

When on February 20, at the age of 91, he succumbed to a heart attack, hidding adieu to his “behnon aur bhaiyon”, a greeting he coined as a mark of respect to women, tributes poured in from all over the globe because there will never be another Ameen Sayani.
 

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