Beloved Indian Radio Presenter of ‘Geetmala’ Was 91

by info.vocallyrics@gmail.com
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Ameen Sayani, the doyen of Indian radio, died on Tuesday in Mumbai following a heart attack. He was 91. The news was confirmed by his son Rajil Sayani.

Sayani, known for his mellifluous voice, initially worked as an English-language presenter for All India Radio (AIR) in Bombay, as Mumbai was known then, thanks to his brother Hamid who was a broadcaster there.

Ironically, Sayani’s journey to radio superstardom began not on AIR but on neighbouring Radio Ceylon. In 1952, Balakrishna Vishwanath Keskar was appointed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as India’s Information and Broadcasting Minister. Keskar was not enamoured of Hindi-language film songs as he was on a drive to promote Indian classical music. After initially restricting airtime for Hindi songs to a 10% quota, he banned them from AIR altogether.

Daniel Molina, an American businessman operating in India those days, saw an opportunity and pounced. He engaged Hamid Sayani to run his Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was known then) radio operations, who in turn hired his brother to host Hindi film song show “Geetmala” (literally garland of songs). The show was sponsored by Swedish company Ciba’s toothpaste brand Binaca, which was launched on the subcontinent during that time. Launched in 1952, “Binaca Geetmala,” later “Cibaca Geetmala,” when the toothpaste brand rebranded, aired every Wednesday.

With its potent mix of songs, the show, which later included a countdown, became a rage across the region. Ameen Sayani, with his sonorous voice, his habit of addressing his listeners as his ‘sisters and brothers’ and his easy familiarity with the Hindi-language film industry talent who appeared on the show, became a firm audience favorite. “Geetmala” finally moved back home, to AIR’s Vivid Bharati service, in 1989. In 1994, video killed the radio star as the enormous popularity of countdown shows on satellite channels and song compilation shows on Indian national TV broadcaster Doordarshan, saw “Geetmala” being switched off.

However, the popularity of Sayani, a household name in India, continued unabated. Through his career he compered some 58,000 radio programs and voiced 19,000 radio spots and jingles. Among his non-film radio work, the “Bournvita Quiz Contest,” which he took over from Hamid Sayani in 1975 after his death, was extremely popular. He also produced “Swanaash,” a 13-episode AIR radio series on HIV/AIDS.

In recent years, Saregama, the company that owns most of the music rights to the golden age of Hindi-language cinema, released a 10 volume compilation titled “Ameen Sayani Presents Geetmala Ki Chhaon Mein” that covered highlights of the program’s history over the decades and featured alongside the songs, Sayani’s interviews with greats including Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, Manna Dey, Amitabh Bachchan, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor and many more.

Tributes have been pouring in for Sayani. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted: “Shri Ameen Sayani Ji’s golden voice on the airwaves had a charm and warmth that endeared him to people across generations. Through his work, he played an important role in revolutionising Indian broadcasting and nurtured a very special bond with his listeners. Saddened by his passing away. Condolences to his family, admirers and all radio lovers. May his soul rest in peace.”

India’s Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur said: “Saddened by the demise of Ameen Sayani, the iconic radio announcer from the golden age of radio and the host of the iconic show ‘Binaca Geetmala’. For most of us, he was the voice of the radio, who, with his magical wordplay, entertained and engaged us in a way no one had before. My condolences to his family, fans and followers in this difficult time. Ameen Sayani is no longer with us, but his magical voice lives on.”

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