Ameen Sayani is a legend in the radio broadcasting in India. His famous show “Binaca Geetmala’ once became indispensable to each Indian household. Editor of Latest Odisha News Subrat Kumar Pati, met Sayani in his Mumbai residence few days back. In an exclusive interview with Mr Pati, Sayani speaks out on several issues relating to the radio sector. Excerpts from the interview:
At the outright I would like to confess that I am afraid of interviewing you in Hindi which is not my mother tongue, that too in front of you who is known in the country as a legend in radio broadcasting.
I am not a very big broadcaster. My Hindi and Urdu had been developed through walking on different paths. So even if you speak something wrong I can figure out. It is a pleasure to meet you. I have been to many Indian states but unfortunately I could not visit Odisha. I remember, during my younger days I had the opportunity to visit the states and do some shows. But, I could not get a chance to visit Bhubaneswar and Puri. I had heard a lot about these places.
You have harnessed many fans in the country, including many from Odisha due to your long dedicated association with radio. How your journey actually started?
In the family we used to speak the ‘Khichidi language’ which comprised little bit of Hindi, English and to a greater extent of Gujarati. My first step into schooling was in a Gujarati medium school which I started at the age of 4 years. Its name was ‘New Era School’, situated in Mumbai. I used to speak Gujarati, write in the language even started thinking and counting in Gujarati too. Later English was also taught in the school and the introduction of English was a prime reason for my journey into the radio industry.
My elder brother Hamid Sayani (6 years older to me) was a very good English broadcaster. He played a key role in correcting me and guiding me in learning the language. One day he took me to the All India Radio (AIR) station of Mumbai. When I saw the studio of AIR, I was spellbound to see the lavish studio, several shining microphones. There he introduced me to a small machine which was a ‘Wire Recorder’. At those time tape recorders was alien to us. He asked me to record my voice on the wire recorder. I recited an English poem close to my heart named ‘I am the lord of Tatri’. I found my voice terrible and the Wire Recorder also used to play little bit more modified voice post recording. I was 7-year-old when visited AIR with my brother. My brother told me to work on my voice, improve language and also told me to take me to the studio for his English shows. I started doing plays, kids shows and later also did college broadcasts. In school broadcasting I conducted interviews and quiz shows. He made me a good English broadcaster
Tell us something about your initial days of your association with your family.
My mother was a fantastic social worker. She started undertaking the task of eradication of illiteracy. She also worked with the women living in veil to make them literate. She was a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1940, Gandhijee during his meeting with my mother asked her to start a magazine in three different scripts so that most of the country could understand that. It was named ‘Rahbar’ in Urdu, means ‘path nirdeshak’ in Hindi. The editing and publishing of the magazine started at my house. I joined the publication as a peon. I was not aware of Hindi much as I was well versed with Gujarati only till then. I started doing the jobs like folding papers, writing addresses and maintain registers.
When the newspaper started publishing I started to see very good articles written in simple Hindi and Urdu. And what I had a passion for was simple Urdu sayari and simple Hindi poetry which I started reading from there and I started knowing Hindustani very well.
We heard that your schooling was done in a boarding school in Gwalior which helped you to garner new talents. How it helped you?
Once I started having a kidney ailment. My father was also a doctor. He used to treat many poor people free of cost and sometimes even bought medicines for them from his own pocket. But when I got kidney problem he called a specialist doctor who advised me complete bed rest. I was bedridden for complete two months. After this gap in the school, my school also understood the matter.As I was always among the top 2 in the school they even promoted me to another class without holding any examination for me.
When I was healed my cousin asked my parents to take me to a reputed boarding school in Gwalior so that I can learn new skills. When my parents talked about the doctor’s advice of refraining myself from any physical exercise and sports for two years to avoid any damage to my kidneys, my cousin said that a letter could be written to the principal of the school requesting him to make sure Amin is not made part of any sports for two years. The expense of the boarding school unlike our apprehensions was not much and good hospitals were also there neaby. When I went there I was overwhelmed to see the scene there. I wanted to make sure something should be done there to maintain some image there, I requested my English teacher to make me a part of English drama. I was asked to produce drama for the fresher boys. I acted as a waiter in the drama who was a drunkard. It was named ‘Crimson Coconut’. The drama scene was complemented with some liquor bottles and some bottles with soft drinks into it. Before the drama I felt thirsty and by mistake gulped a bottle of beer. I started feeling its effect soon however I did not forget my lines of the play. The public was mesmerized with the play as it became more natural as I had to play the role of a drunkard. After the play, many came to congratulate me. Through this act I was able to make my presence felt there.
You had seen the pre-Independent struggle. What kind of memories you have of those days?
I belonged to a nationalist family. My uncle had been the chairman of the Congress Committee and was a very good lawyer. He helped Gandhiji in learning law. My maternal grandfather was a very renowned doctor. He used to treat many pre-Independent leaders like Maulana Azad. I used to chant Vande Mataram very passionately and host tricolour too. I had also heard the speech of Jawaharlal Nehru when he hoisted the tricolour at the Lal Quila. After my schooling I had planned of becoming an English broadcaster.
Later partition of India happened or what we can call as the English people made us to do. They made us dance like monkeys. People from all religion used to live in communal harmony and the partition was totally unnecessary but it was done by the English. I still remember when Gandhiji died; Nehruji gave his speech on radio on the issue. After Gandhiji died I vowed to become a broadcaster in Hindi as it was Gandhiji who inspired me to learn Hindustani.
After my school days, I went to the AIR; I requested them that I was keen to do shows in Hindi. After my audition, the officials said that I had some accent of Gujarati and also English even when I speak Hindi. They rejected me and it left me shattered. But undeterred I kept trying to remove my flaws and work on it. The AIR was a very big name alike the BBC and it had very great people working with them. It was fantastic.
In 1950s, Dr. B.V. Keskar became the Minister, Information and Broadcasting. Though, he was a Maratha, he was quite learned in Hindi. Influence of Hindustani was felt in All India Radio. He made experiments like asking people to talk in a serious tone and asked us to refrain from making a happy and smiling tone while broadcasting.
The British peple had kept some transmitters in Sri Lanka. When Sri Lanka was given freedom, four commercial services started, namely Singhali, Hindustani, English and Tamil. The minister had banned all Hindustani film records saying it was mix of Hindi and Urdu and batted for genuine classical song or bhajans or Sanskrit songs for AIR. It was either destroyed or sold out. It was also a time when the Hindi songs were in their golden age. Popular listernship of Radio Ceylon was also famous for Hindi songs. In Ceylon, directors and other who knew Hindustani asked these broadcasters to play Hindi songs.
Then an incident occurred which was very important in my broadcasting days. One day an announcer was absent and the broadcasting was affected. Our producer came on stage and asked if anybody who could speak Hindi can try their hands. They picked me out and asked me to do a commercial on a tonic for the radio. With full passion I rehearsed and presented before him my narration. He asked me to tone down the passionate part and asked me to go normal while advising me to practice Hindustani and come for commercials. The journey of giving voice overs for commercials went on for almost a year. By then through this commercial my voice became little popular.
Once I was told that a show should be done on popular demands like a popular show that is played in Ceylon. I was asked to do this in Hindi for half an hour where seven songs would be played and people were also expected to be awarded if their list of songs would be match ours. But in the show the responsibility of producing, selecting letters and others were up to a single person. While many seniors rejected, I gladly took the charge for which the stipend was Rs 20. And I whole-heartedly started doing this.
I wrote the script. I tried to add some sayari, some information on some events or any others interesting contents to link it very rationally. I tried to add some funny moments. Before the show went to Ceylon, I was almost satisfied. My fingers were crossed. The Hindi service of Radio Ceylon had become quite popular because of Short Wave, which nobody was expecting. It used to go to Asia, Africa and Europe. It had very large reach. After the first show, so many letters started bombarding us. After my maiden show 9000 letters showered on us and we could access the show’s strength. There was a time when 65,000 letters were reaching to us per week.
How your favorite Binaca Geetmala became a mega hit?
In brief I will tell you. First my language was simple. My collection of songs was good. I tried to play songs which was best suited based on popularity. I regularly tried to respond to the letters I had got for my shows like replying to a friend siting just next to me. The listeners used to get a feel that Amin is talking directly to me. So they found it easy to connect to me. I tried my best to link all components of the show like songs, commercial, funny moments, important events, letters etc. to give a feel that everything is going smoothly in a flow. People used to enjoy it and also the Hindi songs were at that time at its golden peak.
How you used to address your audience?
I used to start my shows with sisters and brothers. Many became my friends just because of this salutation.
You started doing programs in 1952 and even today you are doing some programme. Please shed some light on the programs you are undertaking these days?
Most of the programs that I do now is related to old music and old cinestars. I have a recording of 2008 shows each having a recording time period of 1 hour with the name ‘Sitaron ki Mehfil’ which are interviews of mega directors, actors, writers. It had run in almost nine cities of the world. Another one is ‘Sitaron ki Jawaniyan’ which is about those super stars who are no more but their interviews are played when they used to be young. I have 52 such shows of one year. There are many others shows played in Radio Ceylon.
There is not much difference between the voice of Amin Sayani of 1952 and Amin Sayani of 2018. How you have been able to preserve the charisma of your voice?
This must be a miracle from the almighty side. In the initial days, I used to present my shows with much energy. In 1997, Rama Matu, my wife was working in my office. She was a Kashmiri Pandit, they were fluent in Hindi and Urdu and her uncle was a music chief in AIR. Mohd Rafi also used to treat him as one of his gurus. Her brother once came to meet us. He told me that when I was not married, they had tuned to Radio Ceylon and heard me. He told me that my wife before marriage after hearing to me asked him why I was shouting and why nobody asked me to shut up. I was initially shocked but later realised why I make cacophony on my shows sometimes and opted to shed this habit and tried to work on my tone on radio broadcasting.
When you go to do some shows, what kind of preparations you do?
Radio programs have some special things to ponder over. First is that I write my scripts. Scripting helped in avoiding wastage of time. I had often tried to link these scripts according to the content like commercials or the songs.
We have heard that you once rejected Amitabh Bachchan. How true is this?
There can’t be a bigger lie than this. This is totally wrong and I have also tried at times to use radio shows to clarify the matter. The matter was that our recording for Radio Ceylon was done from Mumbai. At that time Amitabh Bachchan was not a star. He was trying to come on broadcasting and also in films. He was trying to get into Radio Ceylon. One day he came to our studio without intimation in my busy schedule. My secretary told me that a man has come for audition. I was hesitant to take auditions without an appointment. He felt bad. And people said I rejected him. I did not even hear his voice. I heard him for the first time when film Anand was released. When I saw him for the first time on screen, I realised what a star he is and what voice he has. The producer of the film called me for the screening. I vowed to make him my younger brother and make publicity for his films. Later I became the president of Radio Advertisement Practitioners’ Association. Every year we used to give awards for radio, I called Amitabh for being a chief guest. He agreed and came. He started his speech with the incident of not being noticed in radio auditions. I later regretted not meeting him. But also became happy that if I had opted for him I would have been on the roads.
Now there are many private FM Channels. Do you listen to them? Many veterans do not like them. How you see the young Radio Jockeys?
Yes, they create so much noise like what I used to do when I was young in my initial days of broadcasting. The social dynamics is also undergoing a transformation. People of the new generation also prefer more noisy songs. They love to dance on the songs which are also making them more fit. However the heritage of broadcasting which was marked by simplicity, sweet and attraction have not come to them. They just come and start speaking. Sometimes they speak better than us because they speak without a script. But sometimes some dishonest things also crop in. I wish the RJs should keep their emotions based on the situation, be happy in happier situations, sound sad in sad situations but remain original and normal. Second the language one is using in broadcasting must be simple because in radio nobody is keeping a dictionary while listening. Attraction, sweetness should be there to keep the listeners intact with the radio. There are 10-12 very good announcers also in the present day.
You are inspiration to many. I have heard you too. Who is your inspiration?
There are two people who inspired me the most in broadcasting. One was my elder brother Hamid Bhai who was a very good English broadcaster. He used to do stage shows and was master in blending jokes in his scripts. I have done around 5000 stage programs and had been to round 10 countries and have learnt a lot from many people. Another inspiring person was Vinod Sharma, who was a very famous announcer in AIR. In Radio Ceylon he used to do a show called as Inspector Eagle. I made him my guru.
Recently the famous ‘Tama Tama’ was re-enacted and the very famous lines of yours like ‘been bajati naagin’ was used. Whose idea it was?
The idea was of the producer of the show Karan Johar. The team called me and also wrote letter to me and called me to use my voice in the song. They said they want some lines in the ‘geetmala style tone’. We recorded some announcements based on some past shows.
Now the radio industry is expanding and many news radio stations are coming up. How you want to see the industry growing?
There is no reason why the radio industry is to die if it is properly nourished. Shows should focus on a mixture of old, medium and latest songs. Shows on comedy, drama should also be popularised. There are two-three things going wrong. When Service Tax started, newspapers were exempted; this led to full page massive advertisements going up to five pages. But Radio is put under Service tax. We made a delegation and asked the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to exempt radio from the tax. Now GST is around 18 per cent on it. This is people’s medium and should be exempted from the taxation.
I am 84-year-old and find it tough to travel to Odisha but I am eager to interact with the people of Odisha, I hope this interview served the purpose to some extent.