Ameen Sayani (1932-2024) A voice that glued a new nation

21 February,2024 05:30 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Upala KBR

Mahesh Bhatt and Derek O’Brien explain why Ameen Sayani was more than just a radio announcer in post-Independence India

Ameen Sayani

Late last year, Mahesh Bhatt got a call from Derek O'Brien, inquiring whether he wanted to join him to meet Ameen Sayani. The distance to his north Mumbai residence, Bhatt admits, was long. "But we were going to meet our childhood hero," he exclaims. The filmmaker was among the millions across generations, who from the '50s, had found a companion in their living room as that warm voice on radio greeted them with, "Namaskar bhaiyon aur behno, main aapka dost Ameen Sayani bol raha hoon."

To many, he was that familiar voice of the popular countdown show, Binaca Geetmala, beginning in 1952 on Radio Ceylon, later moving to Vividh Bharati. His six-decade-plus career was a rich tapestry representing the country's changing soundscape as he hosted radio shows, and conducted interviews with stars of the music world on Sangeet Kay Sitaron Ki Mehfil. After his brother Hamid Sayani's demise in 1975, he also took on the hosting duties for Bournvita Quiz Contest on Vividh Bharati. As a versatile voice-over artist, he hosted over 54,000 radio programmes and lent his voice to approximately 19,000 jingles.

Pic/Rane Ashish

Talking to mid-day, Bhatt remembers Sayani as "the glue" of the plural India. "Post Partition, India proclaimed to the world that it was a secular country, celebrating its plurality. Through the airwaves, Ameen Sayani's voice became the glue that bound India together. His voice spread joy, uniting listeners from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. He stitched together the entire musical phase of the film industry. India was waking up to its depths of artistic diversity. How did we get introduced to the diverse singers, including Lata Mangeshkar, Talat Mahmood, Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle, and Mukesh? We came to know about popular songs through him. When I went to places like Nagaland or Macau, people were singing Mera joota hai Japani and chanting Binaca Geetmala. He spearheaded the movement of bringing mainstream music to the people."

Bhatt and O'Brien met Sayani at his residence last September

Bhatt still remembers his first meeting with Sayani, when the former was an assistant to filmmaker Raj Khosla. "I'd go to Ameen saab's office, next to Regal Cinema, for bookings. I was in awe of him. Later when I became a director, I'd meet him for my film promotions." His meeting with the Padma Shri awardee last September is etched in his mind just as vividly. "I spent a warm time with him. He was astute and would listen with his heart. They offered us a huge spread of snacks, and he kept insisting that we eat. Ameen saab was working on his memoir."

O'Brien recalls the past year's meeting with equal fondness. But what holds a special place in his heart is meeting the radio legend in the mid-90s during the shoot of the Bournvita Quiz Contest. It was a rendezvous of the old guard and the new guard. "Ameen saab was a celebrity, when we started the Bournvita Quiz Contest on television in 1993. Sometime in 1996-97, I went to his residence, to invite him [on the show] and seek his blessings. Ameen saab spent half a day on our set. While I had 100 guests on my show over its 20-year run, that was my most special shoot," he recalls. He counts the quiz show as Sayani's "silver medal". "Binaca Geetmala was the gold. Today, the legend is no more. When I gave Bhatt saab the bad news this morning, he sent me a beautiful message thanking me [for our September meeting]."

The voice of an era

>> Sayani gained popularity in 1952 when he hosted Binaca Geetmala on Radio Ceylon. He brought the week's top songs to the people at a time when All India Radio refrained from broadcasting Hindi film music. In 1989, the show was moved to AIR's Vividh Bharati.

>> In 1975, after the demise of his elder brother Hamid Sayani, the radio presenter hosted Bournvita Quiz Contest.

>> Sayani produced and hosted over 54,000 radio programmes and lent his voice to almost 19,000 jingles, earning recognition in the Limca Book of Records.

>> He appeared in a few movies, including Teen Devian and Bhoot Bungla (1965).

>> In 2009, he was awarded the Padma Shri.

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