India’s most famous RJ, the iconic Ameen Sayani, passed away on 20th February at the age of 91 after living a life that most of us would envy. The Wikipedia page on this remarkable man says, “Ameen Sayani was born on 21 December 1932 into a Gujarati Muslim Khoja Ismaili family in Bombay (now Mumbai). His parents were Kulsoom and Jan Mohammad Sayani. His mother was a freedom fighter and was close to Mahatma Gandhi, which is why Sayani called himself a Gandhian. He was the grandson of Rahimtulla M. Sayani who had served as the President of the Indian National Congress.” (see Ameen Sayani – Wikipedia).

However, it is what Mr Sayani did post-Independence that set him apart. As Jawhar Sircar, a former CEO of Prasar Bharti, writes in The Wire, post-Independence the Government of India had banned the broadcast of Hindi film music on All India Radio (AIR) as it was deemed to be low class. “Paradoxically, it was also the golden era of Bollywood when its haunting music and exquisite lyrics and songs enraptured everyone. The masses were, therefore, thirsty for such popular music despite its ban over the national radio. Only a minuscule percentage owned expensive gramophones and very few could afford to go to cinema halls.”

Mr Sayani spotted the opportunity and moved into create a program which would run for more than half a century: “In 1952, a Swiss company called CIBA (Chemische Industrie Basel) that sold Binaca toothpaste then, decided to sponsor a Hindi film music programme over Radio Ceylon. It was called Binaca Geetmala and Sayani was the ‘jockey’. His outstanding introductions and interventions soon made it a super hit parade of popular songs. He told me one day, 60 years later, while chatting in his little studio in Colaba, how he recorded each week’s show in Bombay (Mumbai now) itself, and how the spool was dispatched to Colombo.

It was broadcast from 8 to 9 pm every Wednesday. Since Ceylon’s British Second World War transmitters were very powerful —  they were meant to reach war-ravaged Southeast Asia — Binaca Geetmala could be heard in most parts of India. It became so legendary that people stopped everything on Wednesday evenings to listen — and, in the process, imbibed the easy Hindustani language, that was peppered with Urdu romantic words and sweet colloquialism.

Keskar and the mighty Akashvani, however, refused to acknowledge the voice of the people — even as Sayani’s popularity soared to dizzy heights. After five years of public criticism and resistance, All India Radio had to capitulate and began its own popular film music channel, called Vividh Bharati in 1957 — on the lines of Ameen ji’s show.

With its vast network and talented staff artistes and singers — many of who were from Bollywood — Akashvani’s  Vividh Bharati service played an ever better and more comprehensive role in uniting the entire country in one single voice. Vividh Bharati’s iconic programmes like Hawa Mahal, Jaimala, Aapki Farmaish, Bhoole Bisre Geet, Chitralok, Chayageet and the lot delighted Indians — whether they liked kitabi (literary) Hindi or not. They  bound together audiences from obscure  Jhumritalaiyah to better known metros in one emotional family — more so, when transistors spread radio like wildfire in the 1960s. The  cassette mania took over,  thereafter.”

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